The term “town and gown,” referring to how local businesses and college operations get along (or don’t), often has negative connotations. At first glance, the business models of a college dining operation and a local restaurant seem to be at odds within a community.
But the American Dining Creations team at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TCCC) in Dryden, N.Y., are forging a symbiotic relationship with the school’s student-run restaurant, Coltivare, in the town of Ithaca. (Coltivare means “cultivate” in Italian and is pronounced like the classic “Volare” sung by Dean Martin, as the website helpfully explains.)
Coltivare houses three of the community college’s Farm to Bistro programs in the disciplines of hotel and restaurant management, culinary arts and wine marketing. Student farmers at the TC3 Farm that’s adjacent to the Dryden campus complete the circle, supplying fresh produce to both the school dining operation and the restaurant. TC3 Farm Director Todd McLane keeps the community posted on community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes plantings, harvests and farm news with this weekly blog.
While Coltivare could have been seen as a move away from the school’s own kitchens for events and culinary demos, in fact it’s turned into a partner for the American Dining Creations team, creating opportunities and interactions that didn’t exist before.
“Our chefs have partnered with college students before to do events on campus, and now at the restaurant there’s a chance for our chefs to do higher end dinners, with the capabilities there to do molecular gastronomy,” says Nick Salvagni, higher ed marketing director with American Dining Creations. “And we can bring prospective clients to the restaurant and have our chefs cook for them. There’s something here that’s exciting and not completely evolved.”
Providing mentorship for students in the hospitality program “who have a great passion for the foodservice industry” has been one of the great things about this collaboration for the dining team,” according to Kevin Stillman, director of dining services with American Dining Creations at TCCC. “Mentoring students as they begin their career path in foodservice and hospitality offers them a view into the many opportunities in the foodservice field.”
“The exposure to the different functions and guests will prove to broaden their culinary and hospitality management experience, combined with the full-service restaurant practical they receive at Cultivare,” Stillman says.
“Our relationship goes way beyond student mentorship for sure,” says Susan Stafford, chair of hospitality/wine/culinary arts programs at TCCC. “American Dining Creations values a pathway for new hires, as many of our students have been hired by ADC.”
Stafford also points to instances like the time when the culinary program tried to gain traction and get donors to help open Coltivare, dining services put on a locally sourced dinner for prospective sponsors.
The dining team’s “creativity and intimate understanding of what we were trying to accomplish in our new Farm to Bistro concept was made real as we tried to gain momentum with these donors and stakeholders,” Stafford recalls. “As we carry out the respective missions of our own individual organizations, leaning on each other as friends and colleagues when needed…this relationship is perhaps a best practice example of collaborative partnering.”