Schuylkill IU 29: Woody's Restaurant opens doors to hospitality careers

It’s a little after 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. The kitchen at Woody’s Restaurant is bustling with eight students who are preparing the day’s salad bar.

Woody’s is a café for staff, students, and family members in Schuylkill IU 29’s Maple Avenue Campus. Open since 2007, it’s a hands-on culinary classroom for 44 students who spend one or two days a week learning the skills needed for food-service employment, with an emphasis on customer service and basic communication.

Three days a week are known as “Restaurant Days,” when the full-service establishment is open to customers. Students share such important tasks as salad or sandwich prep, main entrée assembly, serving, cashiering, dishwashing, food delivery, clean up, and laundry.

Mondays and Fridays are pick-up only, when students have time to practice the basic food prep skills of measuring, timing, temperatures, and cutting. They also make special treats such as desserts or – everyone’s favorite -- pancakes.

It all happens under the direction of teacher Tom Wood and paraprofessionals Maureen Leibig and Janice Gately. Wood strives, primarily, to teach excellent customer service. It’s a lesson learned by Justin, a 16-year-old junior, who enjoys waiting tables and meeting new people. Justin especially values his new skills in proper table setup and phone etiquette, and he is confident that he’s learning the capabilities and training to work in hospitality.

When students first join the Woody’s team, Wood assesses their abilities and pairs them with duties that meet their skill levels. Soon, he integrates new skills to expand their repertoires of restaurant tasks. He knows he has succeeded when he sees former students working at local restaurants.

“Some students are a little hesitant in the beginning, but usually, that fades pretty quickly,” Wood says. “Students gain confidence with each new skill that they learn, even impressing themselves with skills they didn’t even know they had.”

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