By JEN CARDINES
Whether it’s scooping ice cream, bagging popcorn, handling the register, or serving milkshakes, Marissa Calandra, Chelsea Cocozza and Kat Rothstein cleared their Saturday evenings this summer to work at their new business. The three SHS students created Reel Good Snacks, in partnership with the town, a project they hope will rise to the top in competitions next year.
So, if you’re ordering a snack to go with the movie at Southington’s drive-in, you’ll see the Southington trio behind the counter, learning their trade. The project is a collaboration between the Town of Southington and the high school DECA club.
“These students have truly been doing an exceptional job and the lion’s share of the work,” DECA advisor Sandy Spinello said. “It’s an incredible learning opportunity and they are having fun.”
The Southington Drive-In theater first opened in 1955 and operated for nearly half a century before closing in 2002. In early 2010, the Southington Drive-In Committee was created to begin the process of reopening the drive-in, and the films were once again displayed on the big screen that summer.
Each week during the summer season, carfuls of people pull in by the dozen to experience the nostalgia of the drive-in experience, but what’s a good movie without popcorn? Soda? Ice cream?
In years past, concessions were handled by a different group each week, but this summer, the stand is run solely by Southington High School DECA students. When patrons park at the drive-in on Saturday nights, concessions are available to them on-site from “Reel Good Snacks,” powered by Southington DECA.
Calandra, Cocozza and Rothstein, all SHS DECA officers, took the lead on the business and developed it into a project suitable for the “learn and earn” category of DECA competitions. The business at the drive-in requires a lot of preparation and volunteer hours in order to be successful.
Once the season ends, the students will spend their fall semester working on a 30-page paper for their Marketing III class that documents and analyzes the business they spearheaded. The report will be their submission for the state-wide competition, which is usually held at the Aqua Turf.
“We are very confident that this project could go far for these girls,” Spinello said. “Hopefully they get a top spot so they can go to Atlanta.” The High School International Career Development Conference is scheduled for April 2018.
The girls recruited fellow students to work shifts, where duties include food preparation, sales, inventory, cleaning and supply shopping.
Students sat down and discussed the cost of snacks and how to properly price them for sale. Before officially opening for business, they created t-shirts with their brand logo so that everybody on a shift could be in uniform.
Six to eight people are needed each week to operate the snack shop, and parents even got on board to assist the students.
“We are so thrilled by how involved the parents got,” Spinello said. Even though they are on-hand, it is the students who do the majority of the work.
Drive-in committee member and Town Council chair Michael Riccio approached SHS principal Brian Stranieri and asked him if the future business leaders would be interested in tackling the summer endeavor.
“They learn inventory control, hiring, cash management and so many other real world experiences,” Riccio said. “We can’t be more excited.”
All of the money earned through Reel Good Snacks will directly benefit SHS DECA. Spinello said that money can be used to offset costs of trips, and hopefully enough is raised to provide more scholarships for DECA members.
Reel Good Snacks will be available every Saturday night this season, including the October Halloween film fest.
The student-run concession stand isn’t the only change this season. Last Friday, Rick McCoy and Jimmy Wernicki of Southington Paint Co. were lifted to the top of the big screen to give it a little makeover.
When the drive-in was reopened as a town entity, the committee had the screen painted white.
“We have since learned that for optimal viewing, large screens have to be painted silver,” said Dawn Miceli. “This is an expensive undertaking, but Mark Adams with Southington Painting Co. and John Boyle Decorating Center both donated some of the labor and supply expenses associated with the large-scale job.”
The “Silver Screen” name made popular by the motion picture industry comes from the fact that, “way back in the day, screens were painted with actual silver in the paint,” Riccio said. “So, we found paint made with silver so we could get the best reflective picture possible. We wanted to increase the quality of our product.
Painters worked all day Friday to transform the screen, so viewers will see films projected onto a silver background this weekend.
For this week’s showings and a schedule of events throughout the summer season, visit southingtondrive-in.org. And don’t forget the popcorn.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.