CFCC students bring to life ‘Our Place,’ an on-campus student run dining room

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Cape Fear Community College offers more than 160 programs of study and some overlap, allowing students to work with their peers in hands-on work environments.

The Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts students work together to bring to life Our Place, the on-campus student dining room that allows students to hone their skills in guest services and classical cuisine.

Every Wednesday, hospitality management students serve the guests and manage the front-of-house responsibilities while the culinary arts students prepare the food and take care of the back-of-house.

“I’m making veal medallions tonight. Last week we made stuffed trout stuffed with crab. We’ve made lamb, anything you could imagine you could get at a fine dining restaurant, we’re making here,” Culinary Arts Student Lawrence Guenther said. “In the kitchen, we’ve got every tool, every appliance you could want and you get to learn to use everything.”

Diners who are lucky enough to score a reservation pay $13 for a five-course meal. The money goes straight back to help fund the programs. While the servers do not accept cash tips, donations for their club are appreciated and guests are asked to rate their experience to help the students improve.

“It’s something that I enjoy. I feel like, for the most part, that’s the best part about it. I actually enjoy coming to class and stuff like that because it’s something that I like to do,” Hospitality Management Student Madison Brandon said. 

The student-run restaurant is a hidden gem for Wilmington residents who know about it and a hot spot in the campus community. Reservations quickly filled up when they opened for the fall semester. During the height of the pandemic, they operated with curbside pick-up like many other restaurants in the area.

Hospitality Management Program Director Diane Withrow reminds potential diners that is a learning environment, so she asks guests to be patient with the students. Withrow said they are facing similar issues that other restaurants are experiencing right now, for example, some nights they are short-staffed due to students quarantining. While they are facing challenges, Withrow noted there are a lot of opportunities for students who are graduating from the program, as many places are in need of hospitality staff.

At the end of their particular program, students leave with associate degrees or certificates.

“We really learn the step-by-step process,” Guenther said. “Every little detail of what you’re doing. Doing it right and doing it safely.”

The possibilities for what they plan to do with their newly developed skills are not limited to working as servers or chefs. The students have a variety of plans on how they hope to use their new credentials.

“I’m going to school because I want to be a wedding planner,” Brandon said. “I’ve gone through the process of event planning and this kind of thing, like the restaurant business, to get more experience.”

“My main thought was just to become a better cook…I never thought about really going into a restaurant and working in a restaurant but the one thing that does kind of intrigue me is the possibility of maybe getting a food truck,” Guenther said. “I know that’s real popular now and I thought that would be kind of neat, be my own boss, make what I want to make.”

Our Place is booked for the remainder of the fall semester. Starting in the spring semester, they will serve lunch for $10 rather than dinner. Reservations for the spring will open in January.

For more information on the hospitality management program, visit here. If you’d like to know more about the culinary arts program, visit here.

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