ProStart Provides Entree Into Culinary World

Thirty seconds into a conversation with Emily Haas, you’ll be impressed.

And rightly so. She recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a double major in hospitality and tourism management and entrepreneurship and a minor in nutrition. She has a long list of achievements including an internship with MGM Resorts in Las Vegas and is beginning a two-year entrepreneurial fellowship.

We’re training kids to create a business and become leaders in our industry. They find a home.

A minute later, as you listen to her story, your confidence level in the future of the hospitality industry will rise a bit and by the time you hang up the phone, you’ll really be hopeful.  

Haas credits much of her success to her participation in the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) ProStart program while attending Watauga High School in Boone, NC.

“I grew up in a very small rural town and I found my passion,” Haas told Modern Restaurant Management magazine. “It’s not just the culinary; I loved competing in the management challenges. Before ProStart I never would have considered food and beverage as a career because I knew it was a risky field, but it gave me a wealth of experience and support.”

Haas is not alone. Launched in 1997, the program reaches nearly 140,000 students in more than 1,800 high schools. Participation in ProStart provides aspiring high school students from around the country:

  • Scholarship opportunities to top culinary schools
  • Practical experience and a chance to learn about a potential career field
  • Education and feedback from professionals in the field
  • Networking opportunities with professionals, fellow students and college administrators

“We want to tell a better story about career opportunities in the industry,” said Wendi Safstrom, NRAEF Vice President of Programs and Administration. “They might come in knowing about celebrity chefs and the Food Network, but they get into class and learn about the business of running a restaurant and create connections to the industry. We’re training kids to create a business and become leaders in our industry. They find a home.”

At the recent National ProStart Invitational in Dallas, students from 44 states took part in the competition. Members from the top five teams in each division received scholarships from one of the nation’s premier culinary and restaurant management programs in the country. For the 20th straight year, Golden Corral served as the presenting sponsor for the event. The buffet chain has also served as a sponsor for the statewide competition in North Carolina for the last 10 years as well.  This year, Golden Corral covered the travel expenses and uniforms for the five students from Cary High School and four from Davie High School in Mocksville, NC who participated in the competition.

Following the North Carolina statewide competition in March, Golden Corral hosted students from each team in their corporate offices in Raleigh.  The Cary team, which won the Culinary Division of the state finals preparing a three-course meal in 60 minutes, received instruction and guidance from chefs in a test kitchen. Davie students developed a winning business proposal for an original restaurant concept in the Management Division and were able to present their restaurant concept to judges and receive feedback and advice to prepare for the national competition.

Haas said having exposure to leaders within the restaurant industry is invaluable.

“Coming from a rural area, I would never have had that kind of access,” she said. “It truly expanded our views of what we can do with our lives.”

The experience can be equally inspiring for those who support the program such as Golden Corral President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Trenary, who said the way to sustain success in the hospitality industry is to get people motivated about the opportunities available to them.

“There are endless possibilities if we continue to get kids excited. We’ll have the next generation of leaders. I go to every state and national competition I can because it is so inspiring to see the creativity. Their enthusiasm is infectious.”

Because Haas found her passion in middle school and she wanted to give back and inspire others, she founded Food U, a mobile food truck that works with middle and high schools across North Carolina to teach children basic cooking skills that promote healthy lifestyles.

Haas hopes to open her own restaurant one day.

“ProStart created a platform for my future and I’m very grateful.”