At lunch every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Red Anchor is as busy as any fast-food restaurant around.
Hungry teen-agers, including a number of regular customers, begin pouring in at 12:15 p.m. The restaurant's 12 tables and the seats at the counter fill quickly. For 25 frantic minutes, red-aproned waiters and waitresses swerve deftly among the customers, delivering cheeseburgers, fries, soft drinks and sundaes.
Then the bell rings, and the customers rush off to class.
The waiters and other staff members at the Red Anchor don't get tips. They get grades.
Run by students, the restaurant is on the campus of Banning High School in Wilmington. It is the only facility of its kind in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
With its real plates, artificial flowers and large stuffed sailfish on the wall, the Red Anchor is also a popular alternative to the school's open-air lunchroom. Thirty to 40 students a day opt to eat at the Red Anchor. "We have to turn them away," said Jim Orick, who teaches industrial arts and home economics at Banning and manages the student restaurant.
Ambiance Attracts Students
One attraction is the ambiance, which customers clearly prefer to public school alfresco. As 17-year-old Gabriel Leon said recently, waiting for lunch to be served, "You sit down and have your little setting and everything, instead of sitting outside on the dirty benches."
"You get a lot for your money," fellow customer Chris Dunlap, 16, said, brandishing a hefty cheeseburger. "You don't have to worry about flies," 16-year-old Robert Davis added.
As Orick explained, lunch is a five-credit course for his 150 food-service students. With Orick's guidance but little interference, the students run their own culinary show. "I don't stand over them," Orick said. "They know what they're doing."
The Red Anchor is equipped with such professional amenities as a convection oven and two microwaves. Most of the equipment was bought with federal funds for vocational educational programs.
The hot item on the Red Anchor menu is the "Pilot Special"--Banning's answer to the Big Mac--a large cheeseburger, fries, soft drink and sundae for $2.50. Students shape and char-broil the burgers, construct the sundaes with an eye to portion control, greet the occasional customer complaint with professional equanimity and stack and operate the dishwasher.
Running the dishwasher is the least popular chore at the Red Anchor. Grilling burgers is the task of choice.
Serving food is also popular. Students at Banning are just as sensitive as other teen-agers to the attitudes of their peers, but no one seems to feel that waiting on tables is demeaning. Several students described it as a good way to meet new people. "They are performing," said Orick, who is sensitive to the show-biz aspects of the restaurant business. "They are more Red Anchor students than servants."
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are dress rehearsals. Friday is opening night. Every Friday, the students prepare an ambitious luncheon smorgasbord. It is their day to shine, to show they can perform such advanced culinary turns as preparing a poached fish chaud-froid , chilled and covered with decorated aspic, or making puff pastry swans.
On a recent Friday the menu was Chinese, with Chinese chicken salad and stir-fried beef and vegetables. The students, who occasionally cater banquets and other special events, made the almond cookies from scratch.
"Friday it looks like a cruise ship out there," Orick said of the students' buffets, which are planned around different national cuisines. "They make fruit sculptures and flowers out of vegetables."
Fridays the Red Anchor is open to Banning faculty and staff and the public. There are two seatings for the buffet, which costs $2.50. The restaurant loses money on the Friday spreads but clears enough on burgers and fries to offset the cost. "The fast food pays for all the fancy stuff," Orick said. Overall, the restaurant program pays for itself.
The students look forward to Fridays, when they often don tall white chef's hats called toques. "The teachers don't seem to boss you around as much as the students do," observed Red Anchor student Maria Rosales, 17. Orick said he thinks the students enjoy Fridays so much because it allows many who are not academically gifted to show their teachers how well they can perform. "They get positive feedback from the adults," Orick said. "They get compliments, say, from the English teacher that they may not get in class."