Student-run Bistro 81 turns culinary curiosity into work experience

Chef Joe Schmeltzer is, you might say, familiar with the culinary arts program at Copley High School. Very familiar.

He was a student in the program and he returned to Copley High School to take over the program 27 years ago. The leader has gone through many changes during this time, both in the field and in the educational program.

The culinary program began in 1978 as part of the launch of the Four Cities Educational Compact. He teaches high school students in the Copley-Fairlawn, Barberton, Norton and Wadsworth school districts the many aspects of restaurant management. The main educational tool is Bistro 81 in Ridgewood, which is open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays at Copley High School.

The restaurant itself has been around for a while, Schmeltzer said. It takes its name from its class number.

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The menu changes weekly to give students a variety of what they’re learning to make, the chef said. About three years ago, the restaurant started offering three to four starters a week. A typical menu today includes a fresh soup, “a few sandwiches and a few starters”. For example, a recent menu posted on the Four Cities Compact website highlighted Bistro Burger, Meatloaf and Corn Mashed Potatoes, House Salad, Roasted Red Pepper Soup, Pizzas and angel food cake, to name a few of the options.

“We like to switch things up because it gives our students a wide range of experiences,” Schmeltzer said.

Seniors are key customers at Bistro 81, Schmeltzer said.

“They’re so good with my kids,” he said. “They are in no rush to go anywhere.”

In addition to classes and operating the restaurant two days a week, Bistro 81 also held school events, administrative meetings, PTA events and occasions for other school groups, Schmeltzer said. Participants also sell items; recently, the restaurant filled orders for 172 dozen rolls.

Four Cities Compact culinary arts program instructor and chef at Bistro 81 Joe Schmeltzer, left, works with Norton High School student Alex Bates, 18, Dec. 10 at Copley High School.

A recent improvement is new flooring in the restaurant, Schmeltzer said, which was installed by carpentry students from Four Cities Compact. “Everyone helps each other.”

“It’s a good real-world experience for our kids,” said Roger Wright, director of the Four Cities Compact. “It prepares students for many avenues in the hospitality field.” He added that there are currently 21 students in the program.

Possible careers and skills learned through the culinary program include cooking, catering, restaurant management and event planning, Wright said.

“Joe’s students do culinary marketing,” Wright said. “They work with a teacher on professional skills and writing activities. How to make a menu enjoyable? How to market your restaurant? »

In fact, they don’t necessarily even have to wait until they graduate to find work in the hospitality industry, Wright said.

“They always call me to get people to work for them,” Wright said of the restaurants. “There is a great opportunity for students who want to find a job now.”

Bistro 81 has done what many area restaurants did during the 2020-21 school year and adapted its services to circumvent the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They pivoted and did what restaurants do,” Wright said. “They were still making food.” This included providing take-out options, he added.

One of the program’s alumni is Ashten M. Garrett, a 2016 Copley graduate. Among his accomplishments, he won the “America’s Next Chef” episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games” in March 2020 on The Food Network. Garrett currently works as a chef de partie at the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland. He also published an “A Few Of My Favorites Cookbook”.

“We’re really proud of him,” Wright said.

Barberton High School student Aden Baker, 17, cooks a stuffed pork tenderloin in the kitchen of Bistro 81, Copley High School's Four Cities Compact culinary arts program.

Culinary program senior Aden Baker, 17, said he enjoyed “the experience we get doing it and the team aspect”.

“We all have to pull our own weight,” said Baker, a student at Barberton High School who is in charge of entries.

Baker said he currently works at Magic City’s Remarkable Diner in Barberton. He said he would like to go further in the field and gain more experience with other chefs.

Katie Bishop, 17, a senior at Wadsworth High School, said she loves to cook and would like to learn more about baking and baking in college.

“I saw it as a good way to gain experience,” Bishop said of his decision to enroll in the program. Currently, she said she helps prepare soups and salads, and “helps with the front of the house.”

Bishop said she applied to the Culinary Institute of America and hopes she will be accepted.

“One day I want to own a bakery,” she said.

Katie Bishop, 17, a student at Wadsworth High School, prepares stuffed pork tenderloin in the kitchen of Bistro 81.

The restaurant is just one example of how the Four Cities Compact brings together students from participating neighborhoods: this fall, new pharmacy program launched at Copley High School in partnership with Summa Health. The pact is also preparing to introduce a program called Diversified Medical Tech and bring back its Teaching Academy in the 2022-23 school year, Wright said.

For more details on the Four Cities Educational Compact and its programs, call 330-335-1479 or visit http://fourcitiescompact.org in line.

Journalist April Helms can be reached at [email protected]

Maria D. Ervin