MANATEE -- USF Sarasota-Manatee's culinary program has been cooking right along since inking a lease Oct. 18 for space formerly occupied by Viking Culinary Center on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
After some renovation, students began learning culinary management and cooking skills at the new facility Jan. 6, said Ruth Lando, director of communications and marketing for USF Sarasota-Manatee. Altogether there are 55 students in three classes.
Previously, the classes were presented at Publix's Aprons cooking school and at Manatee Technical Institute.
The milestone of moving into a new facility will be celebrated 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by, among others, the Manatee and Sarasota chambers of commerce.
The College of Hospitality & Technology Leadership's Culinary Innovation Lab is the most significant USF presence yet at Lakewood
Ranch, Lando said.
"It's great visibility to have USF on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch," Lando said,
Officials for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., developer of Lakewood Ranch, say the feeling is mutual.
"We like the connection with USF," said Julia DeCastro, SMR director of leasing and sales.
Aside from the prestige of having a USF program at Lakewood Ranch, the program brings new energy and business to the street, she said.
"It's going to be great for all the stores," DeCastro said.
USF officials say they lacked room for the program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. With more than 200 students enrolled in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, more space was needed.
"There is a need for hospitality management majors to have regular access to a culinary space where they can learn restaurant management, event management, and how to cook, analyze and execute a successful operation from the business perspective," according to a USF press release.
The culinary program at Lakewood Ranch is the only one of its kind in the University of South Florida system.
Lando stressed the lab is not a culinary or cooking school, but a place for students to learn to be good restaurant managers and learn the "back of the house" skills needed to "put theory into practice."
Key lab faculty lab includes Director Joe Askren, an instructor and chef, and Chef Garry Colpitts, culinary services manager. Colpitts was previously manager of the culinary program at MTI.
"Hospitality students taking classes at the facility will be exposed to a real food and beverage environment with a business and industry leadership emphasis," according to the press release.
The lease of the 4,000-square-foot space was brokered by David Fletcher of Wagner Realty's Commercial and Investment Division.
The addition of the USF program helps move Lakewood Ranch Main Street to near full occupancy.
DeCastro said she is anticipating receiving a contract Monday on the last remaining vacant space on the street.
It would be the first time since the inception of Lakewood Ranch Main Street that it has been 100 percent occupied, she said.
For more information about USF academic programs visit usfsm.edu.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1