By Laura McFarland Editor-in-Chief
POWHATAN – Powhatan High School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program continually seeks to bridge the gap with the real job market to better prepare students for today’s workforce.
Last week, the high school’s Culinary Arts program continued that effort, bringing together local foodservice professionals to showcase how the program is preparing youth for the industry.
Representatives from local restaurants and foodservice businesses got a glimpse of the program during an April 21 lunch at Bailey’s Cafe, a student-run on-site restaurant that has been slowly making a comeback after the COVID-19 pandemic. The day that visitors ate lunch at Bailey’s was the first day the restaurant was fully operational again, with no reservations required for staff eating there.
Cooking instructor Mark Robertson saw the lunch as an opportunity to connect with local industry professionals who may have employment or internship opportunities for his students. He was aware that not every student taking Culinary Arts courses wants to pursue a career in food service or hospitality, but some are genuinely passionate and could benefit from these connections.
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Robertson said he’s tried to make similar connections in the past, but efforts have failed. He hopes local businesses will be more open to the opportunity to build bridges this time.
“I just hope there is more communication. I’d like them to email me directly and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a part-time dishwasher, prep cook, floor sweeper, whatever. Do you have someone who suits you?’ … And to be able to walk up to a student and say, “I know you’re looking, here’s what’s available. If you want to talk to them, I’ll help you get in touch,'” Robertson said.
He pointed out that he works to prepare his students for all sides of the hospitality industry, guiding them through the different positions that make a restaurant work. When Bailey’s is open, students may be cutting vegetables, operating the cash register, serving the table, or cooking food.
Sophomore Zoé Lucas, a Culinary Arts II student, acted as a server for visitors during their visit. Lucas said her dream is to one day own a restaurant, so she’s grateful to be able to take classes that will guide her through the whole process. She said she’s worked on the dessert station, salad bar, drinks, sandwich assembly and now serving.
“It’s a rotating calendar. Every week you move down the list, and that way you can get everything done by the end of the year,” she said. “I like that. I like experiencing different things, figuring out my favorite things and figuring out what I’m best at.”
Lucas said she appreciates the school trying to connect with local restaurants in hopes it will benefit students interested in the industry.
Jessica Bufford, owner of Toast, said she sees lunch as a great opportunity to meet young people interested in the restaurant business. There are opportunities at Toast, which is based in Powhatan County in Winterfield, to hire young people, she said, and she’d rather make that kind of connection than just rely on recruitment websites.
Bufford said the restaurant has partnered with some college-level culinary programs for internships, but this would be their first time with a high school program if they could build on that connection in the future.
“I think it’s so smart. Real world experience is a big deal. If these kids can do that and make some of those connections and get a part-time job, I think that’s fantastic,” she said, adding that it also helps the community amid a staff shortage.
Wildwood Bar-B-Que owner Phil Foster said he wanted to see what type of culinary program the high school offered and see if there was an opportunity to hire some students willing to learn more about the restaurant business experience a real environment.
“That could be very positive for our industry. What we need are young people who are interested and have a strong work ethic, because that’s 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 social skills, develop some business skills and develop what is hard work. A restaurant gives them that opportunity and they can use those skills in many different areas.”
Foster added that he was impressed by how enthusiastic and promoting the staff were all of the CTE programs, not just the culinary program.
Laura McFarland can be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.