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Students serving up excellence at Griff Inn

5/8/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Junior Takiah Thompson stands behind the counter of the Griff Inn’s carryout window. She recently represented her school in pastry arts at the state level with her orange fluff cake, which won a silver medal.
Buchtel junior DiMaunn Flournoy, who recently won a silver medal in state competition in the dining room attendant category, prepares a table at the Griff Inn for diners.
Photo: Ariel Hakim
WEST AKRON — Among Akron Public Schools’ (APS) 33 career education offerings, students enrolled in Buchtel Community Learning Center’s (CLC) restaurant management program spend three periods of each school day focused on the culinary arts.

Part of the course of study involves running the Griff Inn, one of four restaurants located inside APS high schools. The students who run the Griff Inn are part of a current group of 14 students who are juniors and seniors at Buchtel. While cooking and serving, they wear the full uniform of professional chefs, including floppy toque hats.

Diners at the Griff Inn — which don’t include students, due to the strict nutritional requirements for food that can be served to them in school — love the restaurant’s 27-item salad bar, which features a multitude of light fare, along with two homemade varieties of soup and yeast rolls daily, according to Valerie Skelly, Buchtel’s restaurant management teacher.

Chef’s daily specials vary depending on what the students are currently studying, while the regular menu features appetizers such as mozzarella sticks and chicken wings for $1.25 to $3.50, and sandwiches include fish fillet ($2.75) and Philly cheesesteak ($2.95), as well as the Griffin Burger, a quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger ($2.75). Shrimp ($4.50) and chicken tender ($3.75) baskets, which come with french fries, also are on the menu.

Beverages, including a range of Coke products, freshly brewed iced tea and regular and decaffeinated coffee, cost 75 cents each.

The all-you-can-eat soup and salad bar, which includes unlimited trips for salads, soups, breads and desserts, is $4.95.

“We need to make money to keep the program sustained, but we try to keep the prices low,” said Skelly.

Cash and checks are the accepted forms of the payment at the Griff Inn. The restaurant does not currently accept credit cards.

Along with the rest of the school, the restaurant, which seats around 75 people, is less than two years old. All of the cooking equipment is state of the art, its cash registers are high-tech and tables are topped with cloth linens and vases of new, though artificial, tulips.

The restaurant, which welcomes the public, usually is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., though learning sometimes interferes with the regular hours.

This week, for example, hours were by reservation-only, as the student chefs studied and served up a lobster special.

Many regular customers are teachers, who in some cases deposit money ahead of time and keep accounts at the restaurant for convenience, according to Skelly.

The Griff Inn also serves banquets — a recent one featured individual taco salads — such as for alumni groups and principals’ meetings. The restaurant also is available to be scheduled for outside meetings and banquets, said Skelly.

Once a week, the restaurant offers a carryout menu to students. Sometimes that includes burgers and fries that can be purchased at the carryout window and taken back to the school’s cafeteria. Soft-serve ice cream served at the window is a student favorite, said Skelly.

Since she has been at Buchtel, at least one of her students has advanced to state competition each year, said Skelly. To get to the state level, students won district competitions in Akron earlier this year, she said. Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) sponsors the state competition, which took place April 24 at The Ohio State University, where APS students competed in all four categories: culinary team, garde manger, pastry arts and dining room attendant. Altogether, APS was represented by 13 students at the competition.

Buchtel junior Takiah Thompson took home a silver medal from the state contest for her orange fluff cake in pastry arts.

“I’ve made it probably 20 times,” she said.

Junior DiMaunn Flournoy said he was surprised how much he enjoyed competing at the state level, in which he won a silver medal in the dining room attendant category.

Skelly has been the restaurant management teacher at Buchtel for about a dozen years, she said, while her husband, David, has been serving in the same position at Garfield High School for five years. The Skellys worked in the restaurant industry years ago together at Ponderosa Steakhouse, along with Patricia Gibson, the restaurant management teacher at North High School.

The Skellys have been married 27 years, and they have one son, who is 25. They commute together from Youngstown to Akron, and they carpool with Gibson. The commute is a time for the three teachers to swap ideas, said Skelly.

However, they are looking for a home in Akron to cut down on the driving, she added.

“It’s a great and rewarding career,” said Skelly of her career choice.

“We really build strong relationships with our students because we spend so much time with them,” she said.

The program at Buchtel is designed to prepare students for the workforce, she added. After two years in the program at Buchtel, a student is qualified to work as a swing manager or shift manager in a restaurant, she noted.

“I always tell my kids at the beginning of the year I don’t care how well you can cook,” she added.

More importantly, she tries to teach them teamwork and respect, she said.

To visit the Griff Inn, located inside Buchtel CLC at 1040 Copley Road, guests should call ahead to make sure the restaurant is open. Guests need to enter the school by its main entrance and sign in. Student escorts will lead guests to the restaurant.

To reach the Griff Inn, call 330-761-7951.

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