The restaurant operated by students in South-Western Career Academy's culinary arts program has a new name, a revamped menu and more opportunities for students to learn about all aspects of running a restaurant.
The Academy Grille opened Sept. 25, offering customers a full-service style dining experience, said Chris Wright, culinary arts instructor.
Under its former name, the Jazz Cafe, the restaurant operated as a buffet-style eatery, he said.
"We wanted to give our customers a higher level of service," Wright said.
Changing the restaurant's mode of service also benefits the students, he said.
When he joined the career academy as the culinary arts instructor last school year, Wright said, he wanted to provide a more meaningful educational experience for the juniors and seniors enrolled in the program.
"Culinary arts programs at schools often focus solely on food preparation," Wright said. "I wanted to give our students the chance to learn about what's involved with managing a restaurant and its staff so they could consider a wider variety of career options."
Students developed the Academy Grille's new menu.
"We feature fresh, never frozen, ingredients and the students worked really hard to come up with a pleasing menu for our customers," Wright said.
"They did that by talking to their customers -- their fellow students -- and finding out what they want to see on the menu. That's just what any restaurant would do -- find out what their customers want," he said.
The menu includes the Dragon, a marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun seasoning served on top of citrus rice; Texas Grilled Cheese; a cheddar-stuffed bacon burger; and the Heat, a burger with six-pepper seasoning, sauteed onions, pepper-jack cheese and Sriracha mayo, which won fifth place in February at the state Burger Battle championship held at the Ohio ProStart Invitational.
The SWCA is affiliated with ProStart, a program administered by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. The two-year ProStart program focuses on restaurant-management skills.
"We have several fresh salad choices, seasonal soups and a lot of sandwiches on our menu," Wright said. "A lot of students eat their lunch in our restaurant and we have to come up with dishes that can be prepared, served and eaten within 40 minutes."
The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the career academy, 4750 Big Run South Road. The entrance for the restaurant is in the back of the building.
Customers include career academy students and teachers and community members, Wright said. About 40 to 50 customers eat at the restaurant each day.
The restaurant is in the space that used to serve as the culinary arts food lab.
The food lab now operates in what used to be Wright's office space.
"It's just a more efficient use of the space we have," Wright said.
The food lab is adjacent to the kitchen.
Students can work on developing projects and menu items in the lab, then try them out in the kitchen, he said.
With the change to a full-service restaurant, students are gaining experience in both front- and back-of-house duties, Wright said.
Front of house includes greeting, seating and waiting on customers, he said. Kitchen staff, including chefs and dish washers, work in the back of the house.
"They are responsible for operating and managing the restaurant," Wright said. "We have students serving as the restaurant expo (the intermediate between customers and the kitchen staff), kitchen manager and service manager.
"It's giving them an idea of everything it takes to operate a restaurant," he said. "They can see whether this really is an industry they want to work in.
"It allows them to really take ownership over running the restaurant," Wright said.
Students rotate between working front of the house and back of house, he said.
Khiayla Powell, a senior in the program, said she enjoys the team aspect of operating a restaurant.
"You find out there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a successful restaurant," she said. "We're getting a chance to serve in all those different roles."
When she started in the culinary arts program, Powell said, she was mostly thinking of working as a chef after she graduated.
"Now I'm thinking more about wanting to be involved in the financial side of the restaurant business."
Senior Adrian Gasca said he enjoyed the process of developing a new menu.
"We'd test out some new menu items with people to find out if they liked it," he said. "When you hit on something they like, it's satisfying."
Like Powell, Gasca said he has expanded his vision of what his career could be.
"I'm definitely interested in looking for a restaurant-management job," he said. "There's a lot more to the industry than just being a chef."