ROCHESTER, New Hampshire —

The expression 'experience is the best teacher' is well known but often not put into practice in today’s schools. However, for students enrolled in the restaurant management program at R.W. Creteau Technology Center at Spaulding High School in Rochester, New Hampshire, experience is on the menu. 

Teacher Victoria Garay has 26 students enrolled in the restaurant management program. 

"I’ve got wonderful kids and we teach them everything that they need to know to run a restaurant," Garay said as she showed me their state-of-the-art new kitchen and cafe that seats 90 people, a facility that most restaurants would envy. 

Garay said the students do it all. They create a menu with weekly specials, they learn to order the food they'll need, they run the front and the back of the house: cooking, serving, busing, and dishwashing. Garay said the program is so much more than just a culinary class. 

"They need to know how everything works," Garay said. 

The students work in three-week rotations in different positions at the eatery, which is named OuR House Cafe. Starting at the end of 2019, the new facility opened its doors to the public. Now every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the public can enjoy a very reasonably priced lunch that is made and served by students. 

For a decade the school had a smaller cafe that only served students. OuR House Cafe, the capital R represents the Raiders of Spaulding High School, now ONLY serves the public for lunch. The cafe is open to students before school and during the first two blocks of the school day. 

The cafe has designated parking spots for customers and its own entrance separate from the school's. Director of Career Technology Education Michele Halligan-Foley said students are not allowed to eat lunch there at the same time as the public due to safety concerns. The door leading to the school from the cafe is locked, Halligan-Foley said, so members of the public cannot enter the school while dining. She says students can't eat there because of regulations that conflict with USDA-funded programs, like their lunch program. 

The day I visited in late January, the grandparents of senior Canaan Demers had brought friends for a meal. 

"It’s wonderful training for them," Sharon Hadwen said. This is not the couple's first time at OuR House Cafe.

"Everything I’ve had is very good," Canaan's grandfather Glenn Hadwen said. 

"They come in like every week...They’re basically locals. It’s really nice for them to come in," Demers said while waiting for an order. 

"I don’t do good in regular classes, sitting there with a math book but this class is very easy to learn stuff. It’s very hands-on. I get to kind of enjoy what I like to do because I want to do this for a career," Demers said. 

The only critique his grandmother has: "They’ve got to get the word out. I think once the word gets out it’ll be quite popular," Sharon Hadwen said. 

Halligan-Foley said the idea to open the cafe to the public came from people in the hospitality industry who said young adults lack experience working with the community, resolving conflict and problem-solving on their feet. 

"They’re working on experiences that they'll have when they graduate when they get their first job. These are life skills that you need no matter what you do," Halligan-Foley said. 

Devin Lefond has been working the front of the cafe and made a good impression on first-time customer Bruce Jolin.

"He’s good at answering our questions. He’s very informed definitely looking forward to coming back here again," Jolin said. 

All of the students enrolled in the program have chosen it, and their teacher Mrs. Garay said it's where they want to be. She said students come in during study hall to work because they feel invested in what they're doing. 

"I love restaurants with all my heart," senior Madison Mackey said. She said Mrs. Garay and her other teacher, Mrs. Weymouth, have helped shape her into the woman she is becoming.  

"They kind of grew my love for the restaurant," she said with a smile. 

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