Posted July 29, 2021
A group of nearly a dozen Lorain County Community College culinary arts students, graduates and faculty spent up to three weeks helping Good Eats Group open its first Ohio restaurant. Sono Wood Fired, a four-time Michelin-recognized restaurant known for its authentic Tuscany-influenced Italian cuisine, opened July 29 at Easton Town Center in Columbus. It features wood-fired specialties, farm raised proteins, house made pastas, hand-crafted wood-fired pizza, signature crafted cocktails, an inviting wine bar and local micro-brewed beers.
“To see the caliber of restaurant that our students were asked to support has been amazing,” says Chef Adam Schmith, culinary arts program director at LCCC. “And these students got to see first-hand part of what goes into opening a restaurant.”
Schmith says the LCCC team worked on all aspects of kitchen operations, including testing recipes to ensure accuracy, following the flow of guest service, and understanding product and equipment placement and storage.
“My time in Columbus was a learning experience,” says Marisa Goodman who graduated with an associate of applied business in culinary arts in 2018 and has since been working as a teaching assistant in LCCC’s culinary arts program. “I was so happy to get back to a restaurant setting and test the wood fired pizzas and other recipes before they were put into production.”
Chef Bradley Ball, LCCC culinary arts lead instructor, says watching the students in this environment was a point of pride for him and Schmith.
“I had all of these students in their first kitchen lab class,” Ball says. “Then they’re working in this real-world situation for a company that has a lot riding on this opening; it was a different level of gratification.”
Opening a new restaurant at any time is a long, challenging process, but doing so during a pandemic added another layer of complexity for the Good Eats Group team.
“This environment dramatically changed how we do openings,” says Martin Murch, who co-owns Good Eats Group with John McLean. “I shared with Adam some challenges we had in respects to the recruiting environment.”
“He said, ‘What if we support your opening?’ and then he talked about a dozen students and graduates who showed some great promise,” Murch recalls.
Murch, who grew up in Ohio, has always given back to the culinary industry, especially when it comes to encouraging students who are beginning their journey into hospitality. He and Schmith saw this as an opportunity of a lifetime.
“We knew this could be monumental for some of these students to understand the true culinarian and gastronomic environment that happens in the business arena that they are going to go into,” Murch says. “And that they would likely never have another opportunity like this – that’s why we did it.”
Murch and Schmith talked about the skillset the students and graduates needed to have and what they’d be tasked with. Schmith says he had the upmost confidence in the selected students, partly because they hadn’t missed a minute in the kitchen – even during the pandemic.
“A lot of schools completely shut down or went fully online during the pandemic,” Schmith says. “But we found creative ways to stay open and stay in the kitchen while keeping our staff and our students safe.”
And because the LCCC program continued operations, it continued to recruit promising new students like Matt Gregory, who’s in his second year in the program and was part of the team in Columbus.
“LCCC’s culinary arts program was one of the few if not the only program that was open in Ohio when COVID hit,” Gregory says. “I had heard only great things from friends and family about their program.”
Murch says the LCCC students got a deep dive of information, comparing the learning experience to being on a super-sonic freight train.
“We tried to give them anything and everything we could and that’s part of the collaborative environment we’ve built with Good Eats Group,” Murch says. “Everyone gets a seat at the table and we always share any and all skills, experience and techniques we have.”
Murch says that collaborative environment didn’t end with the conclusion of the workday. The LCCC team participated in family dinners each night with each student preparing a different meal.
“They got a better understanding of how to build flavors,” Murch says. “It was that next phase of learning – how do you build a recipe and what are the components you need in getting flavors that are dynamic and complimentary.”
And with each dinner came conversation.
“The mindset among the group was pretty extraordinary,” Murch says. “We talked about some philosophical ideas for their futures as they build their careers.”
Fresh opportunities ahead
As the opening neared and the Sono Wood Fired staff came on board, the LCCC team phased out of the process, coming back to Lorain County with experiences of a lifetime.
“This was amazing,” Gregory says. “I’ve now seen firsthand how a Michelin-rated restaurant is run. And how a team of people need to come together to execute such an amazing menu for the guests.”
Murch says he hopes Gregory, Goodman and all the students and graduates carry with them the true focus of being a culinarian.
“No matter what you do or touch, you respect that everything we receive somebody invested their life into,” Murch says. “If you get a head of lettuce, someone grew that. If you receive a piece of meat, someone cared for of those animals.”
LCCC’s culinary arts program aligns well with Murch’s lasting hope. The college’s Farm to Fork program lets students engage with local farmers and use products from those farms, building a strong foundation of using and appreciating local products.
Schmith and Ball know that kind of collaboration with local farmers – and this new partnership created with Good Eats Group – means opportunities ahead for students and LCCC.
“The word opportunity is all over this program,” Ball says. “What our students just did could grow this program into something even more unique.”
Schmith agrees with Ball and plans to capitalize on what could have been just a one-time gig.
“We showed that we’re capable of doing this level of service for an opening restaurant and we can replicate that anywhere,” Schmith says. “It’s kind of funny how something can fall in your lap like this, and now we’re just going to run with it.”
Learn more about LCCC’s culinary programs. Fall semester begins August 23.