Learning restaurant

(First published in the August 1, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Northcentral Technical College to add an operating restaurant to its culinary program, with a focus on local foods

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NTC’s Jon Reinke and Brandy Breuckman in the kitchen of the tech school’s culinary program. The wall behind them is where the restaurant addition will be built, seen in this architectural rendering.

There’s just no better way to learn than being on the job. That’s the premise behind a new restaurant being built at Northcentral Technical College. The restaurant will be an addition to the kitchens of the school’s culinary program, which itself is pretty new.

A Wausau city committee recently gave preliminary approval for a beer and wine license at the restaurant, so it can serve local beer and wines. The liquor license goes before the full city council for final approval this month.

The restaurant will provide much needed space. “When we first started the culinary program we had to choose between a walk-in cooler and a dining room. We chose the cooler,” says NTC Culinary Arts Instructor Jon Reinke. The program was able to hold special dinners in the kitchen by transforming prep areas into dining tables so students could get in at least a little practice.

The new restaurant will seat 60 and have a bar, Reinke says, and be open for limited hours for lunch and dinner. Prices will be affordable, with no gratuity. Customers will provide evaluations for the students to learn from. “It completes our program,” Reinke says.

The restaurant will have an outdoor dining space, too, and will just about double the footprint of the culinary program, which has two kitchen labs and stainless steel prep tables.

NTC will introduce growing towers to raise some of its own produce, to give students experience with the farm to table concept, says Brandy Breuckman, NTC’s Dean of Business, Community Services and Virtual College. The restaurant will use food from local farmers such as Red Door Family Farms. “We want to make sure to retain that feel of natural, seasonal ingredients,” Breuckman says.

The menu will be built by students, to provide experience in creating a menu people will actually order from, and in customer interactions, including happy and maybe not so happy customers, Reinke says. The program has already partnered with the YMCA to bring in seniors for students to serve, Reinke says. A recently purchased food truck furthers the educational experience, especially for students hoping to start their own businesses.

The liquor license helps for a couple of reasons. Cooking with wine and beer is an important part of the program, Reinke says, and they also plan to focus on local beers and wines to retain a local flavor.

Construction is slated to start in October, and finish in December.