AMHERST – There’s a quiet ambiance that sets in as you step out of the elevator onto the 11th floor of the University of Massachusetts Campus Center. Classical music wafts through the air and a gentle, early evening light streams through the large windows. Black leather chairs line a short hallway that leads to a wall bearing the name “The Marriott Center for Hospitality Management.” Just past that wall, smiling faces of students and staff greet you.
As part of a Hospitality and Tourism Management course, the restaurant is operated by an array of students from the Isenberg School of Management. Students rotate in various jobs such as cooking, serving, hosting and washing dishes. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner about twice a week.
According to Chef Professor Jenafer Andren – Kazunas, these students “run the show.”
Pairs of students from the class switch off in planning the more detailed elements of the restaurant. The team of two manages approximately 12 other students while they formulate a budget, create menus, design the plating of menu items and decide on the music and decorations in the dining room. They also calculate profit and loss of sales at the end of their round as team leaders.
According to the Marriott Center for Hospitality Management’s website, in 2007, the Center was built in a space that went unused for several years. In the honor of J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott, 18 months later the 11th floor was turned into a 200-seat restaurant. The Marriott’s educational foundation donated $2 million towards building the space.
Andren-Kazunas has served as the head chef of the program for 15 years. She launched the idea for the sit-down service method the restaurant uses today.
Before, there had been a four-course style menu that changed every week.
“I changed that to [a] more full-service restaurant with like, 20 to 25 menu items, table service… (an) à la carte menu,” said Andren-Kazunas.
The restaurant is extremely affordable. Customers can eat a bundle deal meal, including a starter, entrée, and dessert, at $11 for lunch and $13 for dinner. Dishes served include broccoli-cheddar soup, ratatouille, chicken parmesan and lemon salmon.
The low cost of the food comes from the restaurant’s role as an education tool. The restaurant isn’t subsidized — whatever money is spent needs to be made back. The profit received is minimal.
The kitchen is energized as the restaurant is sedate. Pop music plays on the radio and busy bodies pulse through the room, carrying out tasks. About a dozen students, mostly clad in white tops and black pants, work at the various stations in the kitchen. Some wait for their next serve, while first-day student workers learn the ropes of their new jobs. A few assemble orders. One adds liquid to a hot pan of shrimp and cherry tomatoes, causing the pan to flame.
In the kitchen, Andren-Kazunas instructs on dishes and helps complete orders. Although there are a lot of newbies on staff, there’s an eagerness that makes the work go smoothly. Orders come in from the dining room and get placed on the line. Staff instructs the new students on cooking, assembling and placing the orders on the counter to be served.
It looks like the type of flow that restaurant intern Carly Chu, a senior double major in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Communications, lists off in what she considers a good day on the job.
“Getting through our tasks in an orderly manner, the kitchen is working well. Everyone is just working cohesively together,” Chu said.
Chu really enjoys what she does. She has no interest in a career in restaurants but she’s learning valuable lessons that will help her in the field of event marketing planning.
“I have an independent study with [Chef Professor] Jen and it’s basically an event planning intern[ship.] So, I’m getting hands-on experience with this,” Chu said.
Throughout her time as an intern, Chu has had the chance to taste the dishes and find her favorites.
“I will go through like every meal,” she starts. Chu lists risotto bites as her go-to appetizer (the spicy ones take the cake), her favorite entrée is the flank steak and dessert is the strawberry dream cake – a pound cake with strawberries, and cream.
She also says her friends love the flank steak and always come to the restaurant especially to eat it. Jokingly, Chu says the steak is the reason why she’s part of the program.
Whether there’s a packed dining room or a faithful few, Andren-Kazunas holds to her hopes for the future of the program.
“It’s turned into, what I’m told is, a favorite class,” Andren-Kazunas said. “And I just hope it continues to be that for the students.”
Email Desire’ Crosby at [email protected]