A group of nearly a dozen Lorain County Community College culinary arts students, graduates and faculty spent 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 last summer at Easton Town Center in Columbus.
“To see the caliber of restaurant that our students were asked to support was amazing,” says Chef Adam Schmith, culinary arts program director at LCCC. “These students got to see first-hand part of what goes into opening a restaurant.”
Schmith says the team worked on all aspects of kitchen operations, including testing recipes, 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 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.”
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 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.”
That’s when Schmith asked Murch if the LCCC team could support the opening. “We knew this could be monumental for some of these students,” Murch says.
Murch talked about the skillset the students needed to have and what they’d be tasked with. Schmith says he had the utmost 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 in the kitchen while keeping our staff and our students safe.”
Because the LCCC program continued operations, it also continued to recruit new students like Matt Gregory, who 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. “And I had heard only great things from friends and family about their program.”
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 the students carry with them the true focus of being a culinarian.
“No matter what you do or touch, you respect that somebody invested their life into it,” Murch says. “If you get a head of lettuce, someone grew that. If you receive a piece of meat, someone cared for those animals.”
LCCC’s program aligns well with Murch’s lasting hope. The college’s Farm to Fork program lets students engage with local farmers and use their produce, building an appreciation for local products. Schmith and Ball know that kind of collaboration means opportunities ahead.
“The word opportunity is all over this program,” Ball says. “What our students did could grow this program into something even more unique.”