Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, a restaurant donated by B&E alumni Michael Bodnar and Doug VanScoy, officially opened in the WVU Mountainlair on August 20. WVU President Dr. James P. Clements was the first official customer at the restaurant, which will give all of its net proceeds to B&E.
In West Virginia, hospitality doesn’t just mean a warm welcome and a friendly disposition.
It means revenue.
According to the latest statistics, the hospitality industry generates nearly $12 million per day in the state, and it’s still growing. As the state’s flagship university, WVU has been working to lay the foundation for a top-notch hospitality program, one that feeds talented graduates into the burgeoning job market.
But, like many programs, its success could hinge largely on the willingness of skilled professionals to offer their expertise in the classroom and outside of it.
Enter Michael Bodnar and Doug VanScoy.
They are graduates of WVU’s College of Business and Economics and members of the University’s Hospitality Program Advisory Board. Bodnar is a founding principal of Fresh Hospitality, an intellectual services company that guides the Alabama-based Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, and VanScoy is a long time partner with him in related hospitality entities. The support of Fresh Hospitality and these key alumni is sure to rocket the restaurant management arm of the school’s hospitality program to regional prominence.
Come August, Bodnar and VanScoy plan to open a Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in the Mountainlair, which will serve not only as a healthy dining option for the entire community, but as a fully-functioning laboratory for the University’s restaurant management students.
“It is unique,” said Michael Ellington, assistant vice president for student affairs, which is supporting the partnership. “It’s interesting from an academic perspective, an auxiliary perspective and a service perspective. We’re bringing together three important pieces of the University.”
Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, known for its fresh, quality ingredients, will be run largely by restaurant management students with the help of a lab supervisor. The restaurant will also hire 40 student workers.
“We want this experience to be as real life as we can make it,” VanScoy said. “We want the students in the lab to experience all of those things that you do when you’re running a restaurant. This is about as real as you can get.”
All profits will be given to the business school and used to support further hospitality initiatives.
The hospitality program is currently an area of emphasis under the management major and requires students to take four courses and an internship. Eventually, the school plans to offer a hospitality major as well as a hospitality focus in the MBA program.
Jesse McNeely, a WVU graduate who was recently hired by Taziki’s as part of its management training program, is excited about the partnership and the opportunity for students to experience the restaurant business first hand.
‘The great thing about this course is that it allows you to get into the environment you will be working in for your career in order to develop unique skill sets found only in the restaurant industry,” McNeely said. “With explosive growth planned, I am looking forward to a long career with Taziki's and I feel its presence on the WVU campus will be met with open arms.”
Of the 593 Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business-accredited schools in the U.S., only 39 have hospitality degree programs, and no other AACSB-accredited schools in West Virginia offer hospitality programs in their business schools.
“We’ve talked for many years about restaurant management being one of our needs,” said Nancy McIntyre, associate dean of the business school. “Having a working lab opening in August provides a catalyst and having local hospitality professionals giving time to our board and providing access for our students really enriches the program and offers a strong foundation. It’s phenomenal.”
"Doug and I believe, the addition of Taziki’s through Fresh Hospitality will make WVU's hospitality program stronger," Bodnar said, "and propel them ahead some of the leading university hospitality programs across the country. Essentially, Taziki's will be a classroom, offering a hands-on approach to learning the business."
In addition to Bodnar and VanScoy, WVU’s hospitality program has been supported by Parry Petroplus, the Morgantown businessman who runs the Waterfront Place Hotel. Over the past two years Petroplus has given students access to both the front-of-the house and back-of-the house operations at the hotel. He has also provided internships for students in the hotel management arm of the hospitality program.
Ben Seidel of the Real Hospitality Group – the firm that provides management support for the Waterfront – said he believes the Waterfront and Taziki’s programs not only benefits students, but it will allow local businesses to hire experienced, trained personnel from within the state.
VanScoy hopes the experience will encourage a spirit of giving among the community, as well.
“I have always said that the first third of your career is learning, the second third is earning and the last third is giving back,” VanScoy said. “There really is as much joy in giving back as there is in earning.”
The restaurant is currently under construction in the food court of the Mountainlair. A soft opening is planned for Aug. 19, with a formal ribbon cutting and dedication to follow at a later date.
For more information on the restaurant, visit: http://tazikiscafe.com.