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National Restaurant Association - NRAEF's Curtis: ProStart kick-starts industry careers

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NRAEF's Curtis: ProStart kick-starts industry careers

CCurtis.JPGAs the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation closes in on its goal of raising $3 million on behalf of its ProStart education program, its chairman, Carlton Curtis, vice president of industry affairs for the Coca-Cola Co., recently talked about its importance to students and the restaurant industry, how it prepares the next generation of industry professionals and what is planned for the months ahead.

What are some of the new and exciting initiatives being explored by the NRAEF?

About 24 months ago, the NRAEF decided to put a national focus on its philanthropic purpose through ProStart, a two-year, high-school program that introduces students to careers in the restaurant industry. A key aspect of this is to raise awareness about the program and the financial resources that will expand it to its natural potential and support state ProStart programs. This year we have an objective of raising money to help support the enhancement of the current program and expansion of it and we are well along on that path. We have over $2.1 million raised for 2011 and another $500,000 committed for 2012 in multiyear grants even though we haven't even started stumping for 2012 yet.

What makes ProStart so useful?

Young people have some skills in either the culinary or management sides, but here we offer instruction in both tracks so the skill level is extraordinary. I think it is fair to say that ... most come in not knowing anything except that they like to cook or watch the Food Network. They may have some sort of affinity for the restaurant industry or have a friend in the business so they get recruited. ProStart allows them to build skills and explore careers in both the culinary and management sides of the business. There is a specific curriculum with text books and in-class instruction. In addition to their instructors, very often professional chefs will come in and provide expertise in the classroom. On the management side, they learn about P&L, menu development and how to hire. Basically they learn how to open and operate a restaurant in great detail. They have to think about the inventory, control the price points, everything. In order to get their certificates, they have to have 400 hours of work in the field combined with their classroom experience. This all builds up to specific competitions that challenge their skills levels.

What kind of impact can ProStart have on the industry?

It attracts more young people who think about this industry as great place for a career. ProStart presents opportunities ... that are applicable across all segments of the industry. The restaurant industry has not done a good job of selling itself as great place to have career. It is seen as transition employment, but as we all know it can allow you do anything ‑ from culinary to creating an entrepreneurial business. We're trying to attract the best and brightest and need to communicate all of the opportunities this industry has so they will dedicate their professional lives to it.

What are the biggest challenges ProStart faces?

We're still having to have conversations with people who know nothing about the program or with others who know only a little. They think it's just about culinary and teaching about cooking, but it's more than that. It's about starting, running and owning a restaurant, learning about the front- and back-of-the-house operations and everything else you can think of.

What is the program's best aspect?

With ProStart, an industry member can go to an event in his or her community or go to the national competition and [observe] how engaged the young people are, how they take pride in the profession and skills they are learning. It's very easy to connect the support you give with the outcome. You can see it with your own eyes.


Carlton Curtis, pictured at top, is committed to significantly growing ProStart's membership from its current 90,000 over the next eight to 10 years.

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