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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2021 Features

Perfect Pitch:
Students Fine-Tune Food & Beverage Ideas with Tri‑Cities Advisory Board

By Sue McMurray

Before launching into industry careers, hospitality seniors in Professor Bob Harrington’s Food and Beverage Strategies capstone class are charged with creating a food and beverage innovation, such as a new product, service, experience, business concept, technology, or marketing concept.

Each team must conduct rigorous research, create an extensive business plan, and pitch it to a panel comprised of some of the college’s National Board of Advisors who offer the students feedback from an industry perspective.

According to advisory board members Gary Spanner, Mitch Gilbert, Rocco Luongo, and Morgan Sullivan, four of the students’ food and beverage concepts below are anything but pie in the sky.

Anatolia Bakery Vends Culturally Inspired Pastry

Elizabeth Nalbandian, Siena Stephens, Emma Williams, Vita Chen, and Charisma Taylor developed Anatolia Bakery, inspired by a geographic area in Turkey where many cultures combine. The Pullman storefront bakery features international pastries, coffee, and Cougar-branded items.

Leftover products, in addition to pet treats, are sold in a vending machine to reduce waste, explains Nalbandian. “A vending machine is a key differentiator,” says Spanner. “This idea is ripe for franchising.”

Rotating decor, music, employee uniforms, and pastry specials transport consumers to different countries. Gilbert mildly cautions this approach: “Customer loyalty ties to consistency. A dynamic change of decor may have challenges, so research other companies successfully doing this, he says.”

Australia-Inspired Pies Disrupt Seattle Dining

A bakery and mobile food truck would give Seattle’s University District easy access to sweet and savory pies in a variety of sizes. Inspired by Australia’s popular savory pie shops, Elise Ramsden, Yarita Gomez, and Lexi Bennett pitched The Pie Supply concept. Their model targets college students, newcomers, Gen Z, and millennial customers favoring practicality, such as pie by the slice and loyalty programs. “Take-home meal kits are very popular and appeal to the family aspect and convenience,” says Gilbert. “Always make sure your company’s impact resonates with the community.”

Bennett and Ramsden say making everything “Instagrammable” is a big part of their social media strategy as well as giveaways and promoting other brands they support. “People spend money where their loyalties lie,” says Sullivan. “Creating an alliance and supporting others whose products you like is a way to thrive and build your brand.”

“Through this project, I learned to love formulas and spreadsheets,” says Ramsden, who also wants to start her own organic mushroom farm business. Bennett says teamwork is most valuable, a skill that’s emphasized in The Next Carson Coug undergraduate program.

Mobile Beverage Laboratory Drives WSU Brand

For those familiar with Wine-by-Cougars, a mobile beverage unit would be a welcome sight at local Tri-Cities events, farmers markets, and WSU events. According to creators Gracie Lawrence, Ken Buxton, Alan Schwarz, Chloe Franklin, and Hayley Kroll, the converted travel trailer is not only a vehicle for wine and beer sales but also a way to elevate the WSU brand in Pasco and Kennewick.

The mobile lab provides hospitality students part-time employment that counts toward their 1,000 hours of paid industry experience requirement. In addition to managing sales and operations, students teach customers about wine. “We want customers to leave more educated than when they arrived,” says Lawrence.

“This is a valuable model to increase WSU visibility,” says Luongo.” But awareness is very hard to attribute back to sales.”

Schwarz says other key indicators of success include increased donations, attendance at events and farmers markets, and more people recognizing WSU in the community by word-of-mouth.

Self-Serve Brewery Taps Technology for Safe Social Drinking

A self-serve tap house in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood is the idea of a team interested in creating a COVID-friendly brewery. Margaret Bader, Ryan Brady, Hayley Brown, Samantha Carone, Jaden Lohman, and Austen Penuelas tapped technology to create a safe social drinking establishment. Customers download an app or use an in-store iPad to order food and hands-free pours from wall taps. A wristband monitors consumption and notifies staff if patrons start to overindulge.

“Because orders are digital, there is less opportunity for germ contact,” says Carone. “Our concept drives value because the technology measures exact amounts and charges specifically to ounces poured. This keeps our beverage costs below 30 percent.”

Sustainable practices include a reverse fill tap system, reusable dishware and kegs, recycling, and trading compost for local produce. The team also is exploring hiring out a self-serve mobile bar for weddings and company events to supplement the nearly $80,000 in net revenues projected for the first year.

“We need more talent and new ideas like this in our industry,” says Gilbert. “It’s hard work, and you have to have realistic expectations and tenacity.”