By Selwyn Harris
Officials at NyE Communities Coalition NyECC have announced major changes for their Campus Café program.
The café opened for business last summer. Now it will transition exclusively into a full-time catering establishment.
Tim Wigchers, the organization’s community resource and development coordinator, said the change will take place within a matter of days.
“This Friday will be the last day to come in for lunch. We want to expand the experiences for the youth in the program so we decided to change our focus more to catering and special events. They don’t have to be big groups. We are more than willing if an organization or a group of friends or even a board of directors. If they are willing to give us a couple of days’ notice and make a reservation, we will be glad to do group luncheons. It doesn’t even have to be a luncheon necessarily. It’s more made to order which also expands the menu quite a bit,” he said.
Wigchers said that groups and organizations can either hold their event at the coalition’s campus or have it wherever they wish.
“We will be using everything through the kitchen. For example, we recently did a memorial service and, of course, we took it to where the service was. Like any other caterer, we set it up, staff it, and take care of things in that nature. We have a great chef that is teaching the staff some very wonderful things. We are about to release a full catering menu and it has items so far beyond what the café ever offered. The possibilities on the menu for catering are endless,” he said.
Executive Chef Dustin Varnell said local organizations are indeed showing interest in the brand new venture.
“Our catering business is starting to pick up and we are looking at a number of special events. We can provide a private room at our location or we can come to you. We will customize the meal to meet the needs of the group,” he said.
Varnell also spoke about another element planned for the facility.
“I’ve wanted to add culinary classes for adults. I am working with a number of chefs in the area and expect to announce a culinary program series soon. On the catering end, don’t necessarily think about traditional catering. We can prepare platters of any kind if you are looking for fresh fruit or sandwich fixings,” he said.
Wigchers said if all goes well, individuals can actually come in and take a class on preparing gourmet style meals.
“We are looking at doing some culinary classes for adults where Chef Dustin will prepare a higher end meal. Perhaps eight, 10, or 12 adults would pay a fixed amount and be able to come in and learn how to prepare it with the chef, sample it so they can prepare it at home. Everybody who comes and pays to be there is going to have the chance to learn.
“We are coordinating everything with Dustin and he is looking for other chefs in the community and the region to participate as well. If there is a chef that is interested in getting involved they should reach out to us and we will connect them with Chef Dustin,” he said.
Wigchers also said plans are in the works for the facility to prepare community meals on a regular basis.
The meals will be based on cuisine from different parts of the country.
“We’ve been having some general conversations for a while on that. I’m from the upper Midwest and I talk about the Pasty. If you are from Minnesota or Michigan, you know exactly what it is. It’s an ethnic thing. Typically it will be chunks of beef or pork and it’s done in a pastry shell with carrots and potato. It’s like a hot pocket only it’s homemade. We are talking about doing some of those things and if the community has some ideas, we would be really interested in that. We are just looking at expanding the experiences. The café is a great thing and still is a great idea but we just need to change direction a little bit,” he said.
Last February the coalition unveiled plans for the Campus Café located at 1020 E. Wilson Rd., which was formally the old Manse Elementary School.
The café, which is part of the Youth Werks program, opened in June and is staffed with local kids ages 16 to 21 who desire to pursue a career in the food service or hospitality industries.
At the time, Wigchers said the experience is a valuable tool for those who plan to move on to other culinary related careers.
“It’s a great introduction to hospitality and food service. These youth are looking for that first or second job. If they are able to build even a couple of months of experience into a resume compared to somebody who has no experience that certainly gives them a leg up,” he said.
Wigchers also said with the new catering service, the youth in the program are going to be able to have a much deeper culinary experience.
“They won’t just be making soups and sandwiches and salads. It’s a little bit of a different direction for us but I think like any good organizational or business plan you adapt when you need to and that is what we are doing. The program is not going away. Just the regular hours are going away. There is still the opportunity for groups to come in and have lunch or dinner for us to prepare for special meetings,” he said.