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MRA Report: RosStart’s Statewide Competition

Some of my previous columns have dealt with the workforce challenge for restaurants and foodservice businesses. The labor market is tight now and likely to stay tight for quite some time. What is the industry doing about talent for the future? One exciting answer is the ProStart Program for high school students, which is now offered in about 50 Minnesota high schools. The Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation partners with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation on this comprehensive program.

We mentioned the role of our students in the lead-up to the Super Bowl in last month’s column. Eighty-three Minnesota ProStart students and teachers participated in the Taste of the NFL event on the night before Super Bowl VII at RiverCentre in St. Paul. Some students helped with prepping food while others provided serving assistance to about 40 celebrity chefs from NFL cities around the country. The chefs were extremely complimentary when asked about the work done by our students.  

The ProStart culinary program is a high-level, nationally accredited program for high school students interested in restaurant and foodservice operations. Students become well equipped in relevant skills and topics aimed at industry success. From an academic standpoint we know this is true; however, we sought to find out how this actually stacked up in the real foodservice environment.   

D’Amico Catering has a strong history of hiring ProStart students. According to Assistant Director of Operations Cathy Bovard, D’Amico’s first ProStart student, Andrew, was hired in 2011. Bovard said, “Initially, Andrew found us, so we were lucky. After that we knew seeing ‘ProStart’ on the resume meant we were getting an employee with a skill set we could nurture and develop." Over the years, D’Amico Catering has hired other ProStart students for its culinary team: Cassie in 2013 and Jessica in 2014.   

So what sets these ProStart students apart? Bovard said, “It’s not typical with such young applicants to find the strong foundation skills ProStart provides: sanitation, knife skills, kitchen fundamentals and working with a team. Equally important is they bring a desire and a focus to the job. They want to learn and bring fresh eyes to the kitchen.”

Most people know that there are state tournaments for wrestling, basketball and hockey that are held in March. Did you know that there is also a state tournament in culinary arts and restaurant management? The Minnesota ProStart Invitational was held March 8. We thank our generous sponsor, Sysco Minnesota, for hosting and sponsoring this statewide competition. The number of competing schools has grown significantly in recent years with 18 culinary and seven management teams competing from across the state this year. Culinary teams of three to five students have just 60 minutes to prepare a three-course meal for the judges. The teams are assessed on team work, sanitation, knife skills and the quality of their finished food. Management teams present a concept for a new foodservice business including the menu, décor and a business plan. Sauk Rapids-Rice won first place in both competitions this year, and will advance to the National ProStart Invitational in Providence, Rhode Island, April 27-29. Elk River High School placed second in both the culinary and management divisions. Buffalo High School placed third in the culinary competition with Rogers High School taking third in management. 

Later this spring the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation will be awarding scholarships to students pursuing a post secondary degree in restaurant management, hospitality management or culinary arts. In 2017, the program provided $99,000 in scholarships to 27 students who went on to attend a wide variety of two- and four-year college programs at schools around the Midwest. The application period for the 2018 program is now closed, but this is an annual opportunity for students and for donors. If you or your company would like to sponsor a scholarship, please contact Lynette Uetz at 651-925-4022 or Lynette@hospitalitymn.com.

Other news—I have been honored to serve as executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association since January 2011. This has been an amazing opportunity to meet great people, learn about a dynamic industry and be engaged in advocacy, education and important services. Seven-and-a-half years have flown by! But, as they say, life is a journey and we each get just so many trips around the sun (to borrow a Jimmy Buffet lyric.) I am going to retire in July.  Our board has launched a search to find a replacement for me with a plan to have that person in place in June. The position profile is on our website at

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