Thanks to a partnership between educators and restauranteurs, a select group of local high-school students has gained a remarkable inside perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing the hospitality industry.

In September, the San Diego County chapter of the California Restaurant Association — which represents hundreds of local restaurants — provided the latest batch of Aaron Price Fellows with a behind-the-scenes perspective on the operations of local restaurants and hotels.

The students, specially selected to take part in the fellow program, got to enjoy a special Hospitality Day conference just for high-school students. “We want to make an impact on their lives whether they go on to a career in our industry or select another pathway,” says chapter administrator Jan Borkum.

The fellows are selected during their 9th-grade year at the diverse Lincoln, Hoover, Pt. Loma, and University City high schools. They take part in behind-the-scene educational experiences once a month for three years, visiting local government agencies, businesses, non-profits and cultural institutions.

For the inside look at the hospitality industry, a panel of professionals representing local institutions like Mister A’s, Terra American Bistro and Specialty Produce answered questions, shared advice and offered insight into obstacles facing the industry like minimum wage hikes and drought-related water restrictions.

Teen Iron Chef competition winners_Garfield High School_3_Greg Quirin SDUSD

The restaurant association’s local chapter is deeply invested in the future of a field that employs nearly 181,000 San Diegans. And San Diego Gas & Electric has played a crucial role in supporting its efforts to build the pipeline for this industry through its Inspiring Future Leaders giving initiative.

Generous grants from San Diego Gas & Electric over the past two years have allowed the local chapter to organize a larger hospitality conference for 300 high schoolers. “We’ve been very lucky to receive $15,000 from SDG&E the past two years that has helped us to host the conference,” Borkum says.

Al Love, director of College, Career and Technical Education at San Diego Unified School District, calls the local chapter of the restaurant association an “absolutely outstanding partner” for its continued support of the culinary arts in San Diego city schools. The chapter helps purchase textbooks and organizes mentors for ProStart, the National Restaurant Association’s two-year high school program that teaches culinary techniques and management skills. The chapter also assists with the coordination of a Teen Iron Chef competition and funding for competition expenses.

“There are 15 business sectors recognized at the high school level, and we are always looking for more industry partners,” Love says. “In the hospitality sector, the California Restaurant Association models what we need from an industry partner if we’re going to build extraordinary career pathways for our students. They are the best.”

Teen Iron Chef competition winners_Garfield High School_1_Greg Quirin SDUSD

Hospitality Day is just one of the ways that the restaurant association gives back to the San Diego and connects students to career pathways in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The association also provides an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour and access to hiring managers for summer jobs and internships. In addition, it also organizes San Diego Restaurant Week, which introduces the community to local restaurants and showcases the industry’s talent each year in January and September.

And the association assists the community during crises. In 2007 and 2014, it answered a call for help from the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties and distributed food to shelters and to firefighters and police on duty during the wildfires.

There’s more to come in the new year! Join the San Diego County chapter of the California Restaurant Association for the High School Hospitality Conference on Feb. 16 at Golden Hall.

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