This post is a long-time coming and reflects a key decision made 6 months ago.
It was a hard decision, but ultimately ensured the long-time success of LIFT Enrichment
Here is the story of why we specialize in Cooking after-school classes, and by the end of this school year, will be done with Lego Robotics.
First, let’s rewind 8 years ago
Back in 2009 I was working for an after-school education company, before LIFT Enrichment. I was brought on as an instructor and helped teach and develop curriculum for a lot of different subject matters. The two owners of the companies were good people but were barely around. One visited every week or so while the other was busy working on other companies. This gave me a lot of freedom so I created classes based on what they wanted. Classes for kids included: Drama, Entrepreneurship, Lego Building and more.
That year, Lego released its most advanced robotics set to date: the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0. I convinced one of the owners to buy a set, priced at about $300 at the time, and immediately got to work building robotic alligators, tanks, catapults and a walking robot. Soon, we started our first Lego robotics class and it was a hit.
Originally, we taught classes at a studio in Pacific Palisades. Kids had to be transported directly to the studio for most of the classes, but one class we taught at a school.
“Why have parents shuttle their kids to our studio when we can go directly to their school?” I thought. It seemed much more convenient for families.
Enrollment maxed out for each robotics class and I convinced the owners to let me bring the class to more schools. Soon we had so many schools that we needed to hire and train another teacher.
After a year, growing frustrated dealing with hands-off owners that didn’t understand how to our core service I decided, “I could do this for myself.” I was already creating the curriculum, selling the class to schools and teaching the class. Why not start my own company? Also this way anyone who worked at my company knew I understood every aspect of the business from class experience to curriculum development.
At the time, cooking was my hobby. I first developed my love of cooking living in Italy while studying abroad
at UCLA. I lived for one semester in Northwestern Italy in the city of Trento and then another semester in the spring in Padova, near Venice. In Padova, I had a phenomenal home-stay experience living with Simonetta, an Italian mom from Rome, and her two daughters. Simonetta LIVED to cook and made incredible lunches and dinners every day. I absorbed her cooking techniques and practiced on my own for friends. A newfound passion for cooking was born.
My First Class
My focus was on teaching after-school cooking to kids to share my love for culinary education, eating well and having fun in the kitchen. My company’s name at the time in 2010 was “Cooking Italiano for Kids” I had schools who knew me as the Lego robotics teacher, and were interested in my cooking “without the kitchen” program. 4 schools tried it out and the journey began.
After a successful Fall session, I met with new clients and one liked my cooking class and asked if I taught anything else. I mentioned I knew Lego Robotics and the client lit up with enthusiasm. We started teaching Lego Robotics and Cooking at that school the following session.
Two Companies In One
For the next several years I brought on school clients and continued to offer Lego Robotics and Cooking after-school classes. If you called our number you’d hear, “Thanks for calling Cooking Italiano for Kids and Lego Robotics, how can I help you?”
It was a mouthful to say over the phone, but clients got used to it. Some parents loved sending their kids to different programs, trying robotics one sessoin and cooking the next. I even had one parent with twins who would her son to robotics camp and her daughter to cooking camp!
My roster of schools grew from 10 to 20 to 30 to 40 schools. Some schools had both programs, or just one. In 2014 I rebranded to “LIFT Enrichment” to encapsulate both classes and my philosophy in the acronym “Learning Is Fun Time” = LIFT.
My staff of teachers were half of Lego robotics, half Cooking and a few special teachers who taught BOTH classes on different days.
As my roster of schools grew, challenges started to pop up:
- My time was split between creating curriculum for robotics or cooking, which are completely different courses
- If a robotics teacher needed a sub, it was hard to find a replacement because in that area I might only have chef teachers
- Hiring teachers, a key part of an after-school company, was double the work because I was looking for two different type of people for each subject.
- My website was a mess, was I all about cooking or robotics?
- My newsletters were all over the place, switching from robotics to cooking…who was my real audience?
As my internal staff grew and I brought on my first full-time sales person to sell, there was confusion on what class to lead with. Also, I was trying to hire a vast amount of teachers for different purposes Soon, I reached a breaking point
What would I pursue moving forward? Could I run two different companies at the same time on my own or which would make the cut?
I thought about this for weeks.
One onhand: I loved Lego Robotics because it had a fun secret-agent theme to it and building with Legos was fun. We had great clients and parents who had taken our program for years. It was easy to prep and cleanup.
However, it also was very expensive, with teachers carrying around $2,000 worth of Lego robotics and laptop gear. Pieces were lost and broken all the time. Plus creating instructions for how to assemble the bots and programs was difficult and time-consuming.
On the other hand:
I loved Cooking because it was something I did all week for myself and I enjoyed trying new recipes and seeing how kids responded. I saw kids eating produce in new ways, trying out broccoli in a homemade slaw and loving it, or eating tomatoes with our tomato-bruschetta and LOVING it
. I didn’t mind writing and researching new recipes.
However, it was hard to find good teachers who loved kids and understood class management, recipe timing and culinary basics. Plus it was expensive and time consuming to have teachers shop for fresh produce each class and then arrive 30 minutes early to prep and taking 15-30 minutes to cleanup. Training was not easy.
Could I offer both classes?
I felt, in the summer of 2017, like I was pulling myself into two pieces.
I had two children…and I knew I wasn’t supposed to choose a favorite…but deep in my mind I knew which one I loved the most.
The one I didn’t mind writing curriculum for
Or writing newsletters to parents about
Or even watching in action.
It was COOKING with kids that captured my heart and passion.
And so we switched gears.
The 2017 – 2018 School Year Changes
In the Spring of 2017 we had about 50% Cooking classes and 50% Lego Robotics classes. In the Fall, that changed and we had 85% Cooking classes and 15% Lego Robotics.
As expected, some clients were disappointed. They knew kids loved robotics, but LIFT Enrichment was going to move forward with Cooking. We had a few schools that kept Robotics, but only because we had teachers who had been there for years finish up one last school year.
In the Winter it was 90% Cooking and 10% Robotics. This Spring it’s about 95% Cooking and 5% Robotics.
A newfound benefit of specializing in just Cooking allowed me to meet other companies that taught specific subjects, such as science and dance. We wold work together to connect each other with new schools that didn’t have the other company’s classes.
And so we are sending off Robotics with a smile and a great last session.
My focus is on making the BEST Cooking class for kids and bringing it to hundreds of schools.
Will Lego Robotics ever come back? I have no plans at this point, but you never know.
Until then, simplicity is king.
It’s important to have a singular focus for growth and expansion.
This excites me, as I think of new kids in new areas taking their first bite of kale bruschetta, veggie mac and cheese or cauliflower fried rice
and being inspired by a new way to eat well.
There is a LOT of cool stuff coming, with some incredible video content on the horizon.
And now, a tasty veggie curry recipe from one of our chef teachers:
Recipe: Tofu Vindaloo from Chef Kenna
- 3 Tbs vegetable oil
- 2 inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
- 2 onions, halved and sliced
- 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 Tbs vindaloo curry powder (or you can use regular curry powder)
- 6 Tbs tomato paste
- 1 15-oz can coconut milk
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 15-oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
- 1 lb extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup mushrooms, diced
- Salt and pepper
Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the ginger, and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the onions, cauliflower, and carrots. Cook and stir until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the vindaloo curry powder and tomato paste until no lumps of tomato paste remain. Stir in the coconut milk, vegetable broth, and garbanzo beans. Gently fold in the tofu and mushrooms, and season to taste with salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally as the vindaloo cooks.
Serve warm with rice or naan
Are you thinking of Italian food on the horizon?
Enrollment is open for enrichment classes!
It’s on a first-come, first-serve system.
Don’t miss out!