POWHATAN – Powhatan High School’s career and technical education (CTE) program is continually trying to bridge the gap with the real world job market to better prepare students for today’s workforce.
Last week, the high school’s Culinary Arts program continued those efforts, bringing in local food service professionals to show off how the program is preparing youth for the industry.
Representatives from local restaurants and food service-related businesses got a glimpse into the program during a lunch held April 21 at Bailey’s Café, a student-run in-house restaurant that has been slowly making its way back after the COVID-19 pandemic. The day the visitors had lunch at Bailey’s was its first day back fully operational with no reservations required for staff members eating there.
Culinary instructor Mark Robertson saw the lunch as an opportunity to make contact with local industry professionals who might have opportunities for employment or internships for his students. He was up front that not every student who takes Culinary Arts classes wants to pursue a career in food service or hospitality, but some are really passionate and could benefit from making those connections.
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Robertson said he has tried to make similar connections in the past but the efforts floundered. He is hoping this time around local businesses will be more open to the possibility of building bridges.
“I just hope there is more communication. I would like to be able to have them email me directly and say, ‘hey, I’m looking for a part-time dish washer, prep cook, floor sweeper or whatever. Do you have somebody who fits the bill?’ … And be able to go to a student and say ‘I know you’re looking, here is what’s available. If you want to talk to them, I will help you make contact,’ ” Robertson said.
He pointed out that he works to get his students prepared for all sides of the food service industry by rotating them through the various positions that make a restaurant run. When Bailey’s is open, students might be chopping vegetables, operating the cash register, waiting tables or cooking food.
Sophomore Zoé Lucas, who is a Culinary Arts II student, acted as the visitors’ server during their visit. Lucas said it is her dream to own a restaurant one day, so she is thankful she can take classes that expose her to the entire process. She said she has worked the dessert station, salad bar, drinks, sandwich assembly and now serving.
“It is a rotating calendar. Every week you move one down on the list, and that way you can do everything by the time the year is over,” she said. “I like it. I like getting to experience different things, find out my favorite things and find out what I do best at.”
Lucas said she appreciated the school trying to make the connection with local restaurants in hopes it will benefit the students who are interested in the industry.
Jessica Bufford, owner of Toast, said she saw the lunch as a great opportunity to meet young people interested in the restaurant business. There are opportunities at Toast, which is located in Powhatan County at Winterfield, to employ young people, she said, and she would rather make this kind of connection than rely only on recruiting websites.
Bufford said the restaurant has worked with a few college-level culinary programs for placements, but this would be the first time with a high school program if they can build on this connection moving forward.
“I think it’s so smart. Real world experience is a big deal. If these kids can do this and make some of these connections and get a part-time job, I think it’s fantastic,” she said, adding it helps the community out as well in the midst of a staffing shortage.
Phil Foster, owner of Wildwood Bar-B-Que, said he wanted to see what type of culinary program the high school was offering and determine if there was an opportunity to take on some students who are ready to learn more about the restaurant business in a real world setting.
“It could be very positive for our industry. What we need are young folks who show interest and have a strong work ethic, because it is not for everyone. It can be very difficult and very challenging at times, but it can also be very rewarding,” Foster said. “It’s a great way for a young person to develop people skills, develop some business skills, develop what is hard work. A restaurant gives them that opportunity and they can take those skills into many different fields.”
Foster added he was impressed how the staff was excited about and promoted all of the CTE programs, not just the culinary program.
Laura McFarland may be reached at [email protected]