Gaining real-world business experience at UIC’s Starbucks

University of Illinois at Chicago business majors Safaa Sarefian, Rosemary Arevalo and Matt Carey are quickly learning that top-shelf brands like Starbucks will attract crowds from sunup to sundown — and if any entrepreneur is to succeed, he or she must be ready for them.

The seniors are involved in helping run the new Starbucks store in the Academic and Residential Complex, which opened to students this fall. The Starbucks store, which celebrated its grand opening Sept. 3, is located near the intersection of Harrison and Peoria streets.

Alexandre da Silva, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said he hoped students would take advantage of the opportunity to frequent the coffee shop and that it is a special partnership with the College of Business Administration. He pointed to the role it will have on campus, saying that it represents a “visionary approach” by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J. Rex Tolliver.

“What is really special about this particular store is not only the national brand that we all recognize but the ingredients of having a staff that is, in its vast majority, students of UIC,” da Silva said.

Sarefian, Arevalo and Carey are part of the inaugural group who are working at the coffee shop as part of an independent study program focusing on entrepreneurship. Most of the workers, except for the manager and assistant manager, are students.

As part of their course load this semester, the students in the independent study program were involved in helping set up the store from the very beginning and had a hand in everything from hiring new staff to helping manage the day-to-day operations.

“Every day, from 7 in the morning until 6 at night, it’s just a nonstop line out of the door,” said Carey, a student in information and decision sciences from Aurora.

Charles Farrell, executive director of business development for UIC, said the aim of the endeavor is to provide a “real-life” business situation for students, warts and all. Students were brought in during the spring semester to begin preparing for the opening.

They took part in on-site training in the new store by Starbucks trainers. They also were involved in hiring a full-time manager and assistant manager. The students in the independent study program have and will continue to help the manager and assistant manager train new baristas as they get hired. The student quickly realized that running a store can be difficult — especially with staffing.

“That’s part of management too — you hire someone and you think, ‘That’s wonderful; I’m done,’ and then they quit, and you’re like, ‘Oh no,’” Farrell said. “That’s the whole point of all this, rather than sit in a classroom or being taught in a theoretical way by someone who owns a business, they’re right in there seeing the good, the bad and the ugly of what being an entrepreneur is all about — it’s not easy.”

That’s what appealed to Sarefian, a marketing major from Skokie. Eventually, he wants to start his own business, but he knew the best thing for him before he got to that point was to learn how to start a business from scratch.

“I believe it’s great exposure to the real world; it’s part of a class, yet we get to interact with real situations, problems and we get to solve them,” Sarefian said.

Farrell said that one key takeaway that he hopes students are left with is that entrepreneurs must be flexible and creative problem-solvers. Even though the Starbucks brand is among the strongest out there, there will always be problems.

“That’s why this is such a good lesson for these folks; you really couldn’t pick a stronger brand right now than Starbucks, and then they see all of the challenges — we’ve had staffing challenges, we’ve had equipment challenges…that’s part of the learning for the students,” Farrell said.

And even though Arevalo, a business administration major from Chicago, has been involved in the hard work so far, she said she’s still focused on starting her own business and maybe even competing against Starbucks after she graduates.

“I love the entrepreneurship process of how to create a business, how to open your own business, and I feel that this is the best opportunity for me,” she said. “My dream is to open a business in the coffee industry to export coffee to the United States and open my own brand.”