Hazleton LaunchBox collaborates to launch student-created food startup

Funds from Leo’s Little Kitchen will support future Immanuel Christian School students
Group of people holding a banner that reads "Leo's Little Kitchen" outside a storefront.

The group behind Leo's Little Kitchen holds its banner before it was installed on the storefront along Cedar St. in Hazleton.

Credit: Penn State

HAZLETON, Pa. — The aroma of hot coffee, toasted bagels and fresh desserts once again greeted early morning customers at the former Donut Connection along Cedar Street in Hazleton on Monday thanks to a months-long collaboration between Immanuel Christian School, the Hazleton LaunchBox supported by Pasco L. Schiavo, Esq. and longtime city staple Frankie’s Pizzeria. Hazleton LaunchBox is one of 21 LaunchBoxes and innovation spaces across Penn State Commonwealth Campuses, all of which are part of Invent Penn State and are helping to launch new businesses in their communities.

The soft opening of Leo’s Little Kitchen, named for Immanuel Christian School mascot Leo the Lion, was the culmination of a dedicated effort by a group of the high school’s juniors and seniors that began in September.  

Under the guidance of Hazleton LaunchBox Entrepreneurship Education Coordinator William Andahazy, students Emily Arias, Isaiah Beishline, Arianna Flores, Brianna Flores, Sam Greenfield, Eimy Mejia, Sarah Polashenski, Nicole Tejeda, Javier Vázquez and Nayelis Vázquez learned how to take a business from concept to creation. 

“The process of starting and opening a business as a junior in high school with my classmates is an opportunity I never knew I would get but I'm grateful that I now have a unique experience and memories to look back on,” said Arianna Flores, a third-year student from Hazleton.  

Immanuel Christian School Chief Executive Officer Susan Selby said Leo’s was launched as a workforce development project. Students serve as the business’ founders and employees, receiving class credit and valuable experience, but can earn pay working at the startup once the school year ends, she said.   

Moreover, with a brighter future in mind for Immanuel Christian School students, revenue from Leo’s Little Kitchen will support scholarships at the school for students in need, Selby said.  

“More scholarships will help add to the financial sustainability of school overall, and more sustainability means we have even more opportunities to move the school forward and support our mission of providing a financially accessible education to students in need,” she said.  

‘A student-created business’  

Meeting twice a week at the LaunchBox, Andahazy taught students how to create a sustainable business model, calculate pricing and costs — from larger expenses like rent and utilities to the price per can of food — as well as obtain permits and licensing from city and state agencies, market the business and more. They even helped come up with its name and the design for its logo.   

"This is more than a student-run business. It’s a student-created business,” Andahazy said. “They understand how this business is going to be run and what they need to do to keep it running because they’ve had a hand in building it every step of the way."  

With Leo’s now open for business, the students remain at the forefront of operations. They take customers’ orders, prepare food, brew coffee, wash dishes, organize equipment and complete other tasks necessary to run a functioning food business — all while working around their class schedule.  

Considering the cause, students said the work is well worth it. 

“I feel like my class and I have paved a way for future students at Immanuel Christian School to get a great education, but also one day, God willing, they will be taking our positions that we have now and keep providing scholarships to many more students,” said Nicole Tejeda, a third-year student from Hazleton.  

A future with Frankie’s   

While Leo’s Little Kitchen is currently selling coffee, hot chocolate, bagels, donuts, desserts, cold drinks and other grab-and-go breakfast items, the goal is to eventually sell the pizza and chicken pastina soup Frankie’s Pizzeria had been known for since it opened in 1997, Andahazy said.  

“We have the luxury of selling a brand that has built a following in this area for 25 years,” he said.  

Penn State Hazleton and University alumnus Lauren Sacco helped her family run Frankie’s Pizza until the restaurant closed in 2022. She said she is proud that her family’s recipes will not only be enjoyed by customers once again but will also be used to support such a worthy cause.  

“We’re very honored and privileged they decided to feature our products,” Sacco said. “Our family is very community oriented. We were all born here in Hazleton, and we want to keep the tradition going that we’ve had for so long.” 

Leading up to the soft opening, Sacco volunteered her time getting students familiar with working in a restaurant environment. She also played a role in helping them prepare to eventually earn their ServSafe Certifications, a credential required by food service employees. 

“Now I understand the hard work people put in to open up a business,” said Nayelis Vázquez, a third-year student from Hazleton.  

In addition to the business knowledge and skills gained during their experience, Selby said she hopes students see the power in the community partnerships it takes to launch a venture like Leo’s Little Kitchen.  

“I believe very strongly in collaboration,” Selby said. “We all have different gifts to contribute and there’s no ‘I’ in team. Hopefully, we can pass that idea on to students.”  

Leo’s Little Kitchen, located at 175 N. Cedar St., Hazleton, is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 to 11 a.m. and Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m. Follow them on Facebook for updates.  

An official grand opening is planned for late April or early May, Selby said.