Students run restaurant for a night
February 11, 2019
Restaurateurs can spend months planning large-scale events, balancing a budget and perfecting the menu. Jennifer Ha, senior in ACES, had six weeks.
Ha, who studies hospitality management, has been waiting for her turn at a Spice Box meal since her freshman year.
“As students who are hosting, we pick our date before anything else,” she said. “Since our freshman year, we have known how much this project means for our grade and for our future. Every year we plan a bit more and think a bit more about what we want our night to look like.”
The Spice Box is a student-run restaurant located on South Goodwin Avenue for the capstone project for Food Science and Human Nutrition courses FSHN 443: Management of Fine Dining and FSHN 145: Intro to Hospitality Management, a class typically made up of freshmen.
Its real-world experience is invaluable for students who want to go into hospitality management. It is run primarily by the students, who cook, manage and plan the Wednesday and Friday meals.
To select a theme, most students choose something meaningful, or something they enjoy. In Ha’s case, she chose Korean Lunar New Year.
“This is important to me because I’m from Korea,” she said. “We try not to overlap, so we all communicate what we want our themes to all be unique.”
Preparation for the whole meal takes at least a month and requires many late hours.
“We have deadlines for certain aspects of the meal in the four weeks we are planning,” she said. “And then even after the meal, we have a portfolio to turn in.”
However, despite the stress, Ha has the support of her classmates, who are planning for their respective meals.
Maggie Didier, senior in ACES, completed her meal on Feb. 1, the first of many students to make her Spice Box showcase.
Didier recalled the experience fondly but remembers how stressful it was, too. Being the first one of the semester to showcase her meal and open the restaurant was overwhelming.
“The whole experience on the night of, and the weeks before, was very learn-as-you-go,” Didier said. “That night, none of the diners know exactly what is happening behind the scenes and how much planning has gone into this, and we want it to seem as flawless as it can.”
Both the freshmen and seniors involved serve as wait staff, cooks, servers, managers, hosts and everything in between. All positions are filled by students.
Guiding the learning and creativity of the Spice Box is Jordan Brotherton, the clinical assistant professor of hospitality management.
Brotherton has been in this position for the past two years and can relate exactly to how his students are feeling and knows how much preparation goes into a Spice Box meal.
“I received my bachelor’s in the very program that I’m teaching and guiding my students in, so I understand any questions or stress they may have,” he said. “I had to host my own Spice Box meal and try to be both emotional support if they are stressed as well as a guide to how they can successfully pull this off.”
Brotherton teaches both FSHN 443 and 145, so he interacts with all sides of the Spice Box students.
He said his seniors are the “brains that come up with the menus, themes and how the night will run,” while the freshmen are the “worker bees” and provide a lot of the muscle and help that gets them through a Friday or a Wednesday evening of the Spice Box.
“It is a mutually beneficial relationship because the seniors couldn’t pull this off by themselves, and the freshman class are learning new things at all times, getting experience,” Brotherton said.
With a new meal and theme every week, the Spice Box is never dull.
Brotherton firmly believes this experience for all his students teaches them real-life lessons, not just lessons within the discipline of hospitality management.
“The students are dealing with real deadlines, real people and real dollars,” he said. “The pressure that will become comfortable for these students is something that they need to feel now in order to learn from it. We are a public restaurant run by learning students; this is not your ordinary restaurant.”
Each week, a student earns his or her stripes and customers enjoy a meal unlike the last, fully made and planned by students.
Didier is grateful for the customers who support the restaurant and the experiential learning it provides.
“We are very thankful,” she said. “We have a lot of regulars that come and support us through every meal. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the customers that believe in us and all the students, for all years, that put in the weeks and weeks of work to make one night special.”