Most students take the summers off from their education– but that’s not the case for students at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.
The teaching restaurant is now open to the public – and the students are hard at work. Les Eckert is the Director of Culinary at NMC. She says, “It’s opening day for Café Lobdell’s. This is the first day being open to the public for the baking student running this café.”
Summer session Northwestern Michigan College – includes the final class for students working towards their baking certificate. Chef Instructor Carrie Root says, “These are advanced students getting ready to graduate.”
Eckert explains: “Café Lobdell’s is the live, dining room experience for the baking and pastry students…. They’re actually running this space as a coffee and pastry café.” She adds, “It’s a chance for them to really put all of their practice into actual movement and engagement with the public.”
The past year has been different than normal – with COVID restrictions on restaurants affecting students in the program. “This is our first time being open with protocols being lifted. So it’s almost like reliving a new experience…. It’s been well-received by the public.”
Merrill Campo is a Great Lakes Culinary Institute student who is almost ready to graduate. She’s been through the COVID experience, but likes the way things are starting this summer. “It’s quite a bit different. It’s nice to see smiling faces, and it’s nice to not to have to turn people away for restrictions on seating.”
COVID also kept some learning online – but at a teaching restaurant they need to get the hands-on experience. Campo says, “When you have such hands-on learning like we do here… not having to compromise our learning for being online, we’ve been lucky enough to have in-person labs most of the time.” And Root adds, “It’s definitely a different environment going from a classroom to a production kitchen where we’re serving the public… I think that they like it. I think it’s fun. We just really dig in to what it’s like to work in the industry.”
Eckert says the experience is important. “The students have spent a year-plus learning all of these techniques… they’re actually able to take all of the skills they’ve learned in lecture and lab and put it to working use.”
Just like the fresh baked breads – students are rising to the occasion on this Opening Day. Campo says, “It’s super exciting. For a lot of people this is the first time working in this space before… and the first time having a big grand opening like this.” She adds it’s nice to have instructors waiting in the wings should they be needed. “It’s as busy as a real job and it’s as intense as a real café is, because it is. We just have a sort of backup plan at all times.”
Root agrees that the opening day atmosphere is different. She says Monday was prep day and students left exhausted. But the mood was different bright and early Tuesday morning. “it was definitely exciting. I knew today was going to be … sink or swim. And I think we did really a great job.”
Café Lobdell’s is open three days a week during breakfast hours. The seven students here will rotate to different stations throughout the café in three day shifts, giving them the full restaurant experience. Eckert says, “We have a barista position, so they’re learning those responsibilities. They rotate to the retail sales space where they’re interacting with the customer, actually setting up the case and filling orders. And then in the bakery they rotate through all those positions. All of the pastries that are available are house-made by the students.
“There is a rotation in almost every area of the kitchen and the dining room. So there’s a lot of moving parts that you may not see when you’re enjoying your coffee and your pastry. Which is fine, that’s the way it should be,” Eckert says.
Root adds, “There definitely is a learning curve each week, and that is the point. Because when you go out into the industry you don’t know who you’re going to work with or who your co-workers or your teammates are going to be. It’s a good experience for them to be in that kind of working kitchen with a different group of people.”
It may be a college-level class, but part of what makes it work is opening Café Lobdell’s to everyone. Eckert says, “We need the public to be a part of the class, so the students can put those soft skills to work.”
No reservations needed – they’re open Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday from 7am-11am through the first week of August. You can dine in or grab it to go. Get the details .