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San Diego at Large

Say 'Cheese' and This School Goes Bananas

November 03, 1987|JANNY SCOTT

Welcome to Cheese Balls 101.

At Diegueno Junior High School in Encinitas, adolescents are being introduced to the big business of designer foods: The food club is concocting 12-ounce cheese balls in five exotic varieties for sale at $6.50 a pop at Neiman-Marcus.

Cougar Catering, named for the school mascot, began last year with curry cheddar. Next came blue cheese garlic herb, then blue cheese date. Finally, they added bacon cheddar and Greg's fiesta, a Mexican-style cheese that is a top seller.

"For the Christmas season, we've done 13 dozen cheese balls," groaned Lynn Alley, the Economics Department head and food-club founder. "My eyes are about to fall out. I feel like screaming if anyone mentions cheese balls."

The idea came to Alley last December while she was Christmas shopping in San Francisco. Remembering a friend who had sold some wreaths to Nordstrom, Alley says she thought, "Hey, what if I took our cheeses and tried to sell them to someplace snazzy?"

The deli counter at I. Magnin looked promising. But the store didn't go for the idea. So Alley wrote to the buyer for Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, who not only agreed but ended up advising the food club on how to set up a sensible business.

Now the only problem is meeting demand. Working most Saturdays, the students can supply only the San Diego store. They've outgrown the school's kitchen and have to beg time from the high school or borrow space from a baker friend of Alley's.

So the group is hoping for a sugar daddy to come along and invest in some new equipment, said Alley. In the meantime, all profits go back into the business--except for 10 cents per cheese ball, which goes to a favored Cougar Catering charity, the Mountain Lion Preservation Fund.

Real-Life Lessons

The brand-new schoolroom at the $11-million St. Vincent de Paul center for the homeless in downtown San Diego is being used for storage--while the children from the shelter are educated across the street in a recently vacated building.

That was not, of course, the original plan.

The county Office of Education had intended to lease the schoolroom to provide schooling for children in the shelter. But in August, the plan encountered opposition from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Betty Evans Boone, the West Coast director of the 40-year-old organization, informed the county that its plan raised "church-state problems." County officials considered the point, altered plans and leased part of the building across 15th Street.

"We're not against the homeless facility . . . and we're not against educating the children there, either," Boone said Monday. "But they need to be educated there in a manner consistent with the First Amendment."

Boone points out that the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of cases has ruled against providing public school education in religious facilities, concluding that the practice constitutes "undue entanglement" of government and religion.

But Mary Case, the shelter's program director, feels misunderstood.

"I don't think they understand that there really isn't an issue here," she said of Boone's group. ". . . It just so happens that St. Vincent de Paul is operating this facility. But there is no religious connection to the services" provided.

San Diego Covered?

"Condom routes available," whispered the newspaper ad in the San Diego Union on Sunday. "America's No. 1 selling health products. Over one and a half million sold daily. Limited routes available. Re-stock established local accounts."

Which is why Debbie Kemp--a representative of a Florida firm that distributes condoms, condom machines, popcorn vending machines and snacks--finds herself ensconced in a La Jolla hotel this week interviewing would-be Willy Lomans of the prophylactic trade.

"What it is is selling package deals with condoms--vending or over-the-counter rack sales," Kemp informed a curious caller. "We locate the machines for you and you just re-stock them every month. It's a vending business."

Kemp's employer, Nationwide Snack Services Inc. of St. Petersburg, moved from "your M&Ms and your Hersheys" into condoms late last year, said Tom Carson of NSSI. The idea was to capitalize on the skyrocketing demand, brought on by what Carson calls "The AIDS."

Since March, NSSI has sold 5,000 condom machines, now installed in the restrooms of bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and motels. The company also hired a firm in South Korea to produce vending-machine condoms, ensuring NSSI's distributors a steady supply.

Now an expanding army of men and women own and service those machines, refilling them monthly like Coca-Cola distributors. They buy the condoms wholesale, vend them retail and give their hosts a cut, Carson said. Beyond that, the profit is theirs.

Each distributor's initial investment ranges from $6,000 to $22,000, depending on how many machines and the size route he or she takes on. But Kemp estimated that condom sales can be lucrative part-time work, generating perhaps $1,000 a year per machine.

Response in San Diego, however, appeared lukewarm. During a lull after her third interview Monday, Kemp speculated that condoms are not new to San Diego and San Diegans have long been aware of condoms' role in safe sex.

"I think this area is pretty much saturated," she mused glumly.

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