The Culinary Arts Institute at Richland Community College in Illinois opened in the fall of 2008; 48 students were enrolled. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting months later, a chamber member cornered a college administrator and essentially asked, “Is that all?”
“It became clear we needed to add features to the program to make it attractive for students to stay in the program and earn an Associate of Applied Science degree,” says Douglas Brauer, the cornered Richland administrator, who is the college’s vice president of economic development and innovative workforce solutions.
Since then, the Richland culinary program has added several features that have increased its visibility and reputation while providing students with tools they need to succeed in the food industry.
Making the program stronger
Some of the features added to the culinary degree program since Brauer’s Chamber of Commerce run-in include the following:
- Business development experience. The college launched the student-run Richland Coffeehouse so that students could gain experience developing a business plan, designing the space, picking out equipment, managing a business and interacting with customers.
- International experience. Richland partnered with Yew Chung Community College, in Hong Kong, where Richland students worked in Hong Kong kitchens and experienced Chinese cuisine. This past year, students spent 10 days in Italy through a collaboration with Milliken University.
- Restaurant on campus. The college developed the student-run Bistro 537 (Richland is in Illinois’ community college district 537). This past spring, the restaurant served its 6,500th customer.
- Partnerships with local foodservice companies. Through Marquis Beverage in Decatur, Illinois, Richland developed its own coffee brand, Professor Bean; students roast, package and sell the coffee.
These additions have paid off. “The Culinary Institute has become the signature program for Richland Community College,” Brauer says.
The program averages 88 students a year. This past May, 15 students graduated with an associate degree, and at least 80 percent have secured jobs in the field.
Keeping the program fresh
When Brauer sought to improve the culinary program, he started by considering another, highly reputable culinary school in the state.
“That’s what we want to do, but how do we go above and beyond?” Brauer says about the other culinary program. “How can we make this a unique and innovative program that exceeds what others are offering? What are the features that need to be there for that program to be a preferred program for students to go out of their way to be part of?”
That means Brauer is always thinking about new opportunities for students. Richland recently launched a partnership in which Richland culinary students can transfer to Kendall College in Chicago to earn a four-year degree in hospitality management. In addition, the college is in talks with National Foodworks Services company, where some students already intern, to package Richland desserts for retail.
Richland’s culinary reputation has expanded and now draws 10 percent of its culinary students from outside its service district. Its scholarship dinner, a 10-course meal for $125, is a popular community event that draws 150 to 200 patrons each year.
“People are supportive of what we’re doing,” Brauer says. “That’s the greatest accolade.”