Truist Culinary and Hospitality Innovation Center could boost Upstate’s culinary footprint – Greenville News

The studios are ready, the kitchen is pristine, and the glasses are polished. The Truist Culinary and Hospitality Innovation Center is ready to open.

The center, a collaboration between the Greenville Tech Foundation and Greenville Technical College’s Culinary Institute of the Carolinas has been underway for three years, and at long last, the team behind what is by some accounts a unique and important piece of community growth is ready to share.

The center, in the heart of West Greenville, will focus on three avenues – cooking classes for the community, continuing skills classes for those currently working in the culinary industry, and quick jobs classes designed to fill a need for qualified workers within the local hospitality sector as well as a need for employment within the community at large.

When conversations began about a place that would offer an expedited professional culinary program designed to teach foundational skills and get people into a job in under 90 days, unemployment in Greenville was around 3%, said Alan Scheidhauer, who helped create the Culinary Institute for the Carolinas and is now director of operations for CHI.

At the time, in the neighborhood where CHI and Poe West sit, unemployment was 10%.

There also were more than 100 restaurants within a three-mile radius desperately seeking qualified workers.

Fast forward to today and COVID has reframed the discussion around CHI but not the need for a qualified workforce, or the importance of food to our daily lives.

 “There is going to be a future in culinary regardless,” Scheidhauer said of the need for culinary innovation and training. “Some restaurants may not make it, some will make it, and hopefully we can be here to help.”

Addressing barriers to education

While Greenville Tech and the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas has always focused on affordability, programs for a two-year degree program are in the thousands. By contrast, CHI will offer programs that start at five to eight days and cost $300 -$900.

The partnership with the Greenville Tech Foundation also means even greater financial aid opportunities for students. There will be three different scholarships available to pay part or all tuition for a qualified applicant, effectively bridging the gap between a need in the community and desire to learn while addressing the barrier of cost.

Strategic partnerships with community organizations United Ministries, Project Host, Mill Ministries, Goodwill will also allow the quick jobs program to tap into the unemployed and underemployed sectors within the community.

Eventual plans for the program will grow to offer more advanced levels, allowing students a chance to get up to three certificates and paving an easier pathway to the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas.

Students will be able to transfer credits from CHI to CIC allowing them to pursue a professional degree that could also move them beyond quick jobs and into more advanced culinary and hospitality positions.

“Now is the beginning,” Scheidhauer said.

Filling a need

For now, CHI will offer two main tracks, one for basic cooking skills and one for basic service skills. Each entry-level class is under 10 days and will give students skills ranging from making stocks and stews, knife skills and braising to understanding point of sale systems, managing customers, and proper serving and clearing techniques.

From an outside perspective, the programs may seem elementary, but local restaurant industry veterans will tell you how important foundational skills are when it comes to hiring, both in terms of efficiency and cost.

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“The 15 years I’ve been in business, one of the most important things about working in a kitchen is to have really good knife skills,” said Rick Erwin, owner and founder of Rick Erwin Dining Group, which includes seven restaurants. “And the majority of the people that have walked in the door the past 15 years don’t have good knife skills. That’s something Alan and his team can help with.”

And the pandemic has created even more of a need for qualified employees, Erwin said, and especially ones that have food safety training and who understand best practices of sanitization, food prep, and service.

Scheidhauer envisions CHI helping build a more dynamic hospitality industry, infusing professionalism that will help offset a high turnover rate and promote a sense of value among workers and customers.

The center will offer classes to those already in the industry, providing continuing education opportunities ranging from wine service and molecular gastronomy to whole hog butchery.

The impact on Greenville’s restaurant and hospitality community will be huge, Erwin said, pointing to the ripple effect that Johnson and Wales’ had on Charleston’s restaurant scene when the culinary school located there 20 years ago.

Even after the school relocated to Charlotte, the impact remains, Erwin said.

“That is one of the reasons why that city turned into this culinary mecca,” Erwin said. “The Charleston market is one of the toughest labor markets (for hiring) in the Southeast.”

COVID impact

When you walk into the training kitchen and the service room, you see COVID-19’s impact. Of course, that is true to what an industry that has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic is experiencing. Students that go through CHI will learn how to navigate and serve and cook in a pandemic world.

But the virus has affected the Center in other ways too. Initially, the local industry had a demand for workers, and now, that demand is dwindling, thanks to closures, declining revenues, and general uncertainty about the future.

Scheidhauer, however, is positive. He is confident things will right themselves and in the interim, CHI is ready to boost another facet of COVID life – more people cooking at home.

A huge piece of the programming will be devoted to corporate and personal culinary classes. Scheidhauer envisions companies boosting morale and team-building with food, and he and his fellow instructors and leaders already have a roster of classes for the community from holiday cooking to plant-based cooking and children’s etiquette.

Come spring, he hopes to add family cooking classes that would allow families to come, cook and share a meal together. The corporate and community classes also will help partially sustain the quick jobs program, Scheidhauer said.

In restaurants, you learn to adapt.

To start, CHI is focused on the very entry-level quick job training and the corporate and community classes.

“The pandemic has changed everything for everybody,” Scheidhauer said. “But I do know nobody stops eating.”

The Truist Culinary and Hospitality Innovation Center is now open and offers classes for professionals in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as well as those interested in getting into those industries.

The center also offers a range of classes for the community. For more information, visit https://chigreenville.com/index.html

Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for The Greenville News. She can be reached at lpenso@greenvillenews.com or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook atfacebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.