Blú Café, Allen High's Student-Run Restaurant, Offers Great Grub & Real World Skills

If this smash burger is any evidence, these kids have found their intended life path.
If this smash burger is any evidence, these kids have found their intended life path. Felicia Lopez
You’ve probably heard a lot about Allen High School’s football team. A bit under the radar, however, is Blú Café, a student-run restaurant that first opened its doors to the public in 2011. It may be Allen’s best-kept secret, offering some of the most satisfying and affordable breakfasts and lunches in town.

While the food is a highlight, the real stars are the 400-plus students who run the kitchen. The curriculum behind Blú Café falls under Allen High School’s Career and Technical Education programs, which many join with an honest curiosity in food only to find out that there is much more that goes into a single dish. The program covers all areas of a restaurant operation, starting with safety and sanitization.
click to enlarge Chef Matthew Denman with some of his culinary team. - FELICIA LOPEZ
Chef Matthew Denman with some of his culinary team.
Felicia Lopez
The program then slowly builds up the students’ repertoire by covering other vital skills, from knife handling to making the food. Blú Café’s industry-standard kitchen allows for over 60 students at a time, working in different sections including a washing station, prep area, grill station and kitchen line. Students who run the front of house help take care of customers, including taking orders, serving food and handling transactions.

At the head of the kitchen brigade is chef Matthew Denman, who joined Allen High School in 2018 after years of working in every possible position in a restaurant setting, including the role of executive chef for a local catering company. After joining AHS, Denman pushed to implement a new curriculum, going away from traditional bookwork and written assignments and instead focusing on workforce-ready skills and high standards.
click to enlarge Students learn every aspect of running a restaurant in this industry-standard question. - FELICIA LOPEZ
Students learn every aspect of running a restaurant in this industry-standard question.
Felicia Lopez
In the kitchen, Denman has a keen eye for detail, instantly pointing out tasks that are in need of attention.

“The skills that I’m pushing and the standards I uphold help these students to create this work ethic that separates them from their peers,” Denman says.

Denman’s passion for food and his helpful guidance definitely resonates with many of his students, most notably the sous chefs who help run the kitchen.

One of the sous chefs is senior Sofia Stannemar, who “fell in love with the kitchen” and has recently completed applications for culinary school. “I used to be such a shy person in middle school. I was so quiet and just wasn’t confident, but this class has really helped with my personality development and time management skills. It really made me who I am today,” Strannemar says with poise and confidence. She loves the training aspect of the kitchen and hopes to manage a restaurant one day.

Another sous chef is junior Logan Phillips, whose excitement for the culinary world is unmatched. “I’ve always wanted to work in a kitchen and having this opportunity in high school is insane,” Phillips said.

While learning many skills, he was most surprised by the speed and unique communication that takes place in the kitchen. He loves the program so much, he recently volunteered to work a catering event instead of celebrating his birthday. Once he graduates, he will start working toward his goal of opening a family restaurant overseas, hopefully living right above it.

Denman loves seeing his students have a true passion for the kitchen. “I want to nurture that [passion] and give them those leadership skills" he says. "My hope is that when they leave, they will be advanced enough where they are ready to take the mantle.”
click to enlarge Breakfast service starts at 7:30 a.m. - FELICIA LOPEZ
Breakfast service starts at 7:30 a.m.
Felicia Lopez
Most of the breakfast menu consists of handhelds in the form of croissants, biscuits, bagels and tacos, with a great price point ranging from $1.75 to $7.50. The classic breakfast bagel is made with cream cheese, egg, American cheese and a choice of bacon or sausage and served with a side of country potatoes. The chorizo breakfast taco is made with scrambled eggs mixed with spicy chorizo and cheese on a slightly crisp tortilla and served with a side of chipotle sauce.

Their current lunch menu offers a variety of salads, sandwiches and burgers priced around $7 to $9, with sides that include hand-cut fries, tater tots and freshly made potato chips with jalapeño ranch dip. The classic American burger is a popular item, with two beef patties that are smashed and grilled resulting in a perfect char. It's dressed in melted cheese, topped with fresh veggies then held together with two buttery brioche buns.

Blú Café is located next to the Allen ISD Performing Arts Center. Visitor parking is available in an adjacent lot.

Blú Café at Allen High School, 300 Rivercrest Blvd. (Allen), 972-727-0400. Open 7:30am-1:30 p.m. Tuesday - Friday.
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Felicia Lopez is a contributing writer for the Observer, previously of Southern California and now eating her way through the greater Dallas area. She is a data nerd by trade and a dessert enthusiast at heart.