Cardinal Café Takes Flight at Manual Tech

New café provides real-world learning experiences for culinary arts students


Kansas City, February 6, 2020:  Coffee lovers have a new spot to roost in Kansas City thanks to the students of Manual Career and Technical Center.

Students, staff, and leaders from across Kansas City Public Schools celebrated the grand opening of the new Cardinal Café during an event Tuesday morning, Feb. 4 at Manual Tech, which is located at 1215 E. Truman Rd.

The Cardinal Café was started this school year by Culinary Arts Instructor Thomas Belisle, Career and Technical Education Coordinator Christin Collins and other members of the center’s administration. It’s designed to provide real-world learning experiences for the students enrolled in the culinary arts program at Manual Career Tech.

“We need to give our students real-life experience in the restaurant industry,” Mr. Belisle said. “It’s one thing to teach them technical skills. But we need these guys, when they graduate, to be ready to hit the ground running.”

The café is open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. It features café-style food, coffee, and espresso drinks prepared and served by students at a reasonable price. The money raised by the café goes directly back into the culinary program.

Second-year culinary arts student Te’Chantie Willingham, a senior at Southeast High School, was grateful for the unique opportunity to get valuable hands-on experience with the front- and back-of-the-house demands of running a restaurant or café.

“It’s very important that we have this program because I’m getting the experience I need to succeed at a culinary college. I already know the ingredients, the techniques,” Ms. Willingham said. “Time management has been our biggest challenge. That’s the main thing.”

Ms. Collins was involved in the development of the café when she was still a business teacher at Southeast High School. She compared the opening to giving birth.

“It’s something that you’ve worked so hard for and that you’ve planned for so long, and then to see it open and to see our students doing so well with it, that’s just fantastic,” Collins said. “They really jumped right in. They’ve helped us take it to the whole next level.”

The café is also an opportunity to leverage several different real-world programs within KCPS. Digital marketing students at Manual Career Tech are taking the lead in the design of the space and promotions. Some of the food is prepared with ingredients grown by students in the agriculture program at East High School.

The café will be its own class starting this fall, and the students will be expected to make it grow and thrive, according to Collins.

“Those students will be responsible for developing partnerships with other programs in the district to develop product lines and add more things to our menu,” she said. “For these students who desire to have that culinary career, that front-of-the-house, back-of-the-house experience just sets them apart from any of their competition.”

Visit to learn more about all of the options available for KCPS students at Manual Career and Technical Center. Visit the KCPS Flickr site to view more photos from the grand opening of the Cardinal Café.