This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
“Why can I buy four bags of chips at the corner store for $1, but one smoothie at the supermarket costs $4?”
This is the question that sparked the idea of the Rebel Market, a corner store run by high school students that is set to open next year through the Rebel Ventures program.
The Rebels, who are primarily high school students in the School District, are planning to open the market in West Philadelphia, but do not yet have a location.
“Our goal is not only to sell what we already make, our Crumbles, but we wanted to give our future customers other healthy alternatives, such as smoothies and other good, delicious, healthy meals,” said William Chaney, a sophomore at Freire Charter School, who works on human resources and social media for Rebel.
Right now, they are developing new flavors of their Rebel Crumbles, “a healthy crumble cake.”
Rebel Crumbles became the first student-produced food to be available in all District schools in 2017. More than a million of the Crumbles have been distributed as part of the free breakfast program.
“We have a lot of ideas for what we want to create that we think kids will really love, but we are always seeking out partnerships and opportunities to bring our ideas to life,” said Rebel Ventures co-founder and co-executive director Jarrett Stein.
Stein is director of Health Partnerships and Social Ventures at the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, which incubated and still supports Rebel Ventures. Penn undergraduate and graduate students work directly with the Rebel students as mentors.
“The thing with Rebel is that we never do just one thing,” said Tiguida Kaba, a freshman at the High School for the Creative & Performing Arts. Kaba emphasized grant writing as one of the most useful and important things she has learned from Rebel, something she probably otherwise would not have had the chance to do in high school.
The Rebels recently participated in the Full City Challenge, a joint initiative of the Economy League and the local news organization called Billy Penn, to seek creative ideas for tackling hunger and poverty in the Philadelphia region.
More than 30 organizations pitched their ideas to a series of judges and potential funders, who whittled the candidates down to five organizations, including Rebel Ventures. The Rebels were encouraged to tighten up their pitch, especially when competing with other organizations for funding.
As part of the Challenge, the Rebels had to launch a GoFundMe campaign. Although they did not win the pitch competition, they raised the most money out of all the organizations, winning them an additional $2,500 donation on top of the $12,421 that they raised online.
Said Stein: “Our ongoing desire to bring healthy foods to neighborhoods through creating our own store connected with these funding opportunities really focused our energy into trying to make this become a reality here and now. We really are trying to take advantage of these unique opportunities to bring some youth power into food retail in our neighborhoods.”
The new market will employ about 10 high school students, as well as one full-time staff member to help supervise the store. But for now, the current Rebels are making all of the decisions about how the market will function.
“Every aspect of the business will be run by high school students,” said Tre’Cia Gibson, a Rebel co-executive director and a freshman at Community College of Philadelphia.
Gibson started at Rebel when she attended Parkway West High School. She now works part-time to oversee the crew and act as a culinary mentor. She said they are making a transition from creating recipes in the kitchen to figuring out how they will sell their products in the store for a price that students find affordable.
Chaney explained: “All of us as a crew are in charge of making the recipes and deciding [what will be sold]. We do a lot of prototyping in the kitchen for the recipes that we will make, and the best one will be the one that will go into the store. Our main focus is kids, because we are trying to change their minds from getting unhealthy foods from corner stores to coming to us to get something healthy and be healthy in the long run.”