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Hospitality interns give advice to restaurant owners

As the summer semester closed at WVU, owners and managers at Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe in the WVU Mountainlair got some student advice about attracting breakfast customers.

Six students in a College of Business and Economics internship course spent the summer exploring the restaurant and identifying ways to attract customers to the breakfast menu. That's a tough job, given that fewer than half of all Americans eat breakfast every day.  

The interns ― from the College of Business & Economics and the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design ― made suggestions that could boost sales and lift the nutrition level of WVU students. First, they suggested, it is important that students know the restaurant, in fact, serves breakfast. Their research showed that out of 50 students surveyed, two-thirds did not know that breakfast is available at Taziki's.

Second, the students suggested that the restaurant emphasize the nutritional benefits to students who eat breakfast and that many of the breakfast items sold at Taziki's have fewer calories, fat and sodium than similar items sold at its competitors. The first restaurant was opened by Keith and Amy Richards in Birmingham, Ala., in 1998 after a trip to Greece. 

The owners and managers were thoroughly pleased with the interns' presentations. "You only need to spend time with our interns to see how the profits from Taziki's are very well spent," commented Douglas Van Scoy, who said he was very satisfied with the students' presentations.

Van Scoy and Michael Bodnar, both B&E graduates, own the store and donate all net proceeds from the Mountainlair Taziki's to the College of Business and Economics. Taziki's has 27 locations in nine states and plans to open four more soon.  

The two are members of the College's Hospitality Program Advisory Board. Bodnar is a founding principal of Fresh Hospitality, an intellectual services company, and Van Scoy is a longtime partner with him in related hospitality enterprises.

In addition, funds for the paid internships came from the Doug and Pam Van Scoy Hospitality and Tourism Program Support Fund and the J. Michael Bodnar Hospitality and Tourism Program Support Fund. The interns were four undergraduate students and two graduate nutrition students.

Frank DeMarco, who heads up the program, said the students' ideas were well-received, especially features on nutrition and improvements in the restaurant's social media reach. "This is the first time for this internship program, and I believe the students really did excellent work," he said. "I was very impressed." 

David Scarton, one of the interns, hopes someday soon to be working in a hotel or resort. A junior from Pittsburgh, Pa., he said the summer internship showed him a new perspective that illustrated much about actual restaurant management. "The course helped me the most in learning different ways to manage and bring together a group of people who knew little about the food industry," he said.