Until he joined the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's (NRAEF) ProStart program, Alexander Gonzalez was struggling through high school in Newport Beach, CA.
When he met veteran culinary educator Janet Dukes and joined ProStart at Newport Harbor High School, he found an outlet to turn his high school career around.
Today Alex serves in the U.S. Navy, and he credits Mrs. Dukes and the lessons she taught him about cooking and life with his success in the Navy and his ability to complete a stressful tour in Afghanistan.
ProStart is a two-year program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow's foodservice leaders. Janet Dukes is on the front lines of the program, having taught a number of ProStart classes over more than 10 years. She has seen program graduates go on to successful careers in the industry and into collegiate hospitality programs. Many of her students, like Alex, experience success at the National ProStart Invitational as well, including her management and culinary teams. They earned unprecedented wins in both events in the 2011 National ProStart Invitational this past April.
ProStart competitions, while important, are just a small part of the program's educational experience. The ProStart curriculum builds practical culinary and management skills through real-world educational opportunities. And many university hospitality programs accept ProStart courses for college credit or offer scholarships to entice ProStart graduates into their programs.
“ProStart is a proven, high-impact program that has changed the lives of countless students and the industry at large,” says Doug Brooks, chairman, president and c.e.o. of Brinker International. “No other program so effectively brings the restaurant industry and the classroom together to provide students and teachers with access to relevant, real-world educational opportunities.”
According to Lynette McKee, executive director of the NRAEF, more than 90,000 students in 1,700 high schools across 45 states are enrolled in ProStart, all of them working hard to learn about the foodservice business — from advanced culinary skills to marketing and management.
“ProStart interests students in the restaurant industry as a career, instead of just a job to get through high school,” says Buffalo Wild Wings regional manager Torey Wallace. “Graduates from ProStart are highly engaged and creative and can move the industry forward.”
In other words, ProStart may be training your next crew member, manager or chef. And since ProStart has been developing future talent for more than 10 years, thousands of ProStart alumni are already working and succeeding in the industry. ProStart is a great training ground for restaurant operators. But don't take my word for it:
Cheryl Bachelder, c.e.o. of AFC Enterprises and president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, also is a big fan: “ProStart provides students with an unparalleled opportunity to not only learn but become inspired and passionate about a future career in our business,” she says.
I am fortunate to serve as 2011 chairman of the NRAEF board of trustees, a great opportunity for me to contribute to the growth and advancement of the U.S. restaurant industry. We have set an ambitious goal to raise $3 million to expand ProStart's contribution to our business, and recently passed the two-thirds point with more than $2 million collected. But we need your help.
ProStart will not reach its potential without the financial and professional support of the industry and operators, many of whom have recognized its benefits, supporting it with mentored work experiences and donations. Donations by restaurateurs of time and money will strengthen this industry-driven program and establish a solid foundation for significant growth in the next five years.
That growth could bring us more students with a passion for the business and more educators like Janet Dukes. “I don't think there's anything greater than the pride you feel when you see the students excelling and reaching their potential,” Dukes says.
You can get more information about how to provide both opportunities and funds for the future of our industry at http://nraef.org/giving.
NRAEF exists to support the growth and advancement of our restaurant industry. With your contribution of time and money, we can play a greater role.
Carlton L. Curtis is the chairman of the board of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and v.p. of industry affairs for the foodservice and hospitality division of Coca-Cola North America.