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Young entrepreneurs hit the sauce

WESTBROOK -- Education comes in four flavors for students of applied economics in Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School: original, honey, hot and fire. For ten years, high-school students have managed a working small business right out of the school...

WESTBROOK -- Education comes in four flavors for students of applied economics in Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School: original, honey, hot and fire.

For ten years, high-school students have managed a working small business right out of the school building, stewing up and selling Prairie Smoke barbecue sauce nationally. BOLT Enterprises is the name of the business, and though the managers change every year, it has been steadily building up brand recognition.

Business Opportunities through Learning and Technology is what BOLT stands for, and that's exactly what social studies teacher Shannon Helgeson ensures her students get. BOLT is something students can put on their resumés when they apply for college or jobs.

"The hardest thing, I guess, would be trying to please your customers," said 12th-grader Andrea Hass. "It's hard to please every one, but that's how the world is."

Working for BOLT isn't a game of pretend. Students do marketing, sales, bookkeeping and inventory just like they would for a normal business, and they make the sauce themselves in the school cafeteria every summer.

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They also spend time face-to-face with their customers.

"One of the things we're best known for is doing hands-on taste test demonstrations where we actually take our sauce out and let people try it," Helgeson said.

It isn't a hard sell, either.

"The magic of the sauce is who's making it. It's a really good cause," Helgeson said. "I'm really impressed with how good the sauce is. It's not a mercy purchase."

Helgeson has only recently become involved in the BOLT project.

"Of course, you always have to be growing," Helgeson said. "We definitely believe if you're not growing, you're dying. You can never rest on your laurels in the business world."

BOLT Enterprises certainly hasn't. So far, all the money students have made on the project has gone back into the project, paying for initial costs like equipment and ingredients.

New this year is the possibility that the program made a profit.

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"Our eventual intention was to give kids scholarships who are going into business," Helgeson said. "Otherwise, we're just funding our own operation here as best as we can."

Hy-Vee in Worthington sells the Prairie Fire brand and sometimes offers samples to customers.

"I think it reflects the attitude of our school and our administration," Helgeson said. "They are super supportive of real learning, not doing seat-time and for things that kids test on and forget, but giving real world experience."

This year, three students are managing BOLT Enterprises. As such, they made the barbecue sauce in the summer, with plenty of taste-testing.

"It's really good, I like it," Eric Olsem said. "We have four flavors. I like the hot and the honey."

Of course, there are consequences for hands-on learning.

"It smells like barbecue sauce in our classroom, so you smell like barbecue sauce when you leave," said W-WG senior Stephanie Comnick.

For more information about Prairie Smoke, contact boltent@westbrook.mntm.org .

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