Tucked away in Eckles Hall, on the eastern edge of the University of Missouri campus, is Café at Eckles, a student run restaurant. And many would say it is one of the university’s best-kept secrets. The café provides food and beverage management students hands-on experiences in all facets of the restaurant industry.
“It’s a good place for students to get their first real life experience in a restaurant,” said Café at Eckles Chef, Seth DiBello.
The culinary café is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with a variety of items on the menu for a low cost.
DiBello said the menu is created by the students and takes up to four weeks to complete due to recipe testing and dry-runs. All the food used for the menu is sourced from Performance Food Group, as well as meats from Mizzou Meats.
“The biggest thing that we took into account was the demographics and who we’re serving,” said MU junior and food and beverage management major, Devin Tarantino. “A lot of the people that we are serving are obviously students, so we wanted to make it affordable.”
The affordability of the food is represented in the menu, a hand-breaded parmesan chicken sandwich with side is only $5.25. Aside from cost, the students also looked at the tastes their consumers preferred.
“A lot of the people come from the Midwest, so, like, the St. Louis and the Chicago areas,” Tarantino said. “So picking the foods that we are going to serve are going to be burgers and steak sandwiches, the things people are going to enjoy.”
DiBello said that offering food that’s in season is also a part of the menu selection process, which is something that is never ending.
After initial learning in the classroom, the students apply what they’ve learned by working in the café. They rotate positions, gaining experience from working in the kitchen, as a server or as a hostess.
DiBello said the program teaches students food-cost control, inventory skills, how to operate different kitchen equipment, cash handling accuracy, safety and sanitation and cooking skills. He said it was a challenge was teaching the students all the skills needed in the restaurant industry in only one semester.
“I think the program is like a hidden gem,” Tarantino said. “I think it’s really great for people who are more hands-on learners and kind of want to create and have that experience. There’s a lot of development and places to go in this industry.”
Tarantino said that he became aware of the program from a friend who recommended the class.
The course is offered to upper level students in the hospitality management program, and students are graded on menu development, pricing, and self and peer evaluations. Café at Eckles currently serves around 40 to 50 customers per day, however, Tarantino said that he thought the café could easily handle 150 people per day.
To encourage people to dine-in at the cafe, students and faculty send out mass emails, as well as operate a Facebook page. For other ways to follow what is going on, check in on Twitter and Snapchat at @eckles_cafe.