Aspen-Grille Serve’s High Quality Food with a Side of Education

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Art comes in many shapes and sizes; from canvases, to sculptures to restaurant management and a great lamb-burger.

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Students in the hospitality management program in the College of Food Science and Human Nutrition understand the art form of restaurant running, very literally.

The Aspen Grille restaurant, located on the second floor of the Lory Student Center can be compared to an art class, in the restaurant world. For students learning the hospitality profession, fully running a restaurant for class credit is allowing students to gain experience, and put their classroom skills to the test.

“It’s a big teaching laboratory. Everything they do all day is all about preparing, setting up, closing down a restaurant.  All the learning, the teaching the training is all focused on that aspect,” Eric Milholland, one of two instructors for the program said. “The goal of what we do here is to serve high quality food to CSU and to anyone who may come into the restaurant, so that the students get the experience and we serve the community need for having a restaurant on campus. “

The Lory Student Center turns from white and tile hallways to a plush environment with carpet, rich red curtains and white table clothes as the snaking hallway turns into the University Club and Aspen Grille restaurant.

Milholland explains that despite the white tablecloth look all students are welcome. “We know how to handle backpacks in the restaurant” he explains with a smile.

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The restaurant is run by students “who earn credit rather than paychecks” according to the online description.

“We’re the only ones that do this in this area that have this hands on experience.” Milholland explained. Out of CU, UNC, DU, and the other northern Colorado schools, CSU is unique in it’s program. “Trying to get a job with just a diploma isn’t that beneficial. And work experience is very valuable. We believe the most valuable combination of the two is work experience with the diploma.”

Student’s involved with the program agree that the education away from the traditional classroom is priceless; and enjoyable.

“[The class] has a really strong bond. We started out and we didn’t know each other, now we all sit together in other classes, we are planning to have classes together in the future,” student Rachel Inman said. “Its nice to find someone in the same major with you, its great to have that bond with other people who have the same major as you and understand what you’re going through.”

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Inman is the manager of the Aspen Grille for the week and explains that  “its totally nerve racking, I’ve never worked in a restaurant before so I came into his experience totally blind, I had no idea what I was doing,” yet in the restaurant she was dressed in a pant suit, looking professional and confident.

All students work all positions, and they rotate every week. The first day of the week is a teaching and training day and the second day of the week is up to the students to run the restaurant independently, without the instructor’s guidance. The class is both a Monday, Wednesday class and a Tuesday, Thursday class with different groups of students enrolled in the two sessions which run in semester increments, just like other classes.

“The first time I served I was so nervous but Eric talks you through everything, he’s a really good teacher,” Inman said. “It instills confidence in how you’re going to do and that you can do it.”

Aspen Grille has a versatile menu that is designed by a Chef Instructor, and differs each semester.  A sustainable menu is a goal of the program as well, which mirrors CSU’s campus-wide mission. Harvest Farms is a Wellington Based farm that offers rehabilitation through farming in partnership of the Denver Rescue Mission, and provides local food to the facility. An Ahi Tuna Wrap and Neuvo Salad are two menu items with ingredients from the farm.

A long-time customer favorite is the “Ram Burger”, and it is easy to understand why. It is a classic burger with a twist— CSU-raised lamb. Processed in house, the meat is combined with herbs, and has been on the menu since the restaurant opened.

“Every single student is involved with every single aspect of the restaurant,” Milholland said. “If you walk in today and order a hamburger, a student will cook your hamburger, if you order a salad, it will be a student putting your salad together.”

Although the restaurant is a classroom, it is first and foremost treated as a classroom.

“We serve real food and guests pay real money. As long as that’s going to happen, the quality of the food and the quality of the service dictates that we have to do things the right way every single time,” he said. “if we make a mistake, we teach students ‘how do we deal with this mistake’.”

“But quite honestly, the days we make a mistake are few and far between. I credit that to the students who come in here every single day and try hard and believe in what they are doing.”

Believing in the mission of the restaurant is close to students hearts.

Inman isn’t looking to work in the restaurant industry after graduation, but understanding what goes on in a restaurant will make her a better hotel manager, event planner or cruise ship employee she explains.

“Since you’re training to be a manager, you understand what a busser goes through, what a server goes through, what a cook goes through so as a manager you have a greater understanding and respect for the positions below you.  It’s a really awesome experience.”

“More than anything we have a lot of positive feedback. We get that all the time, we have people coming up and saying ‘this student did a great job’” Milholland said.

The Aspen Grille is located on the second floor of the LSC, above the bookshop. It is open from 11:15-1 Tuesday through Friday. They serve bar food, full lunches, tap beer, spirits and liquor, and appetizers. Lunch prices ranges from $7-$12. You can view the full menu and details online at http://www.sc.colostate.edu/aspen-grille.