Milwaukee Public Schools is partnering with Bartolotta Restaurants, SURG Restaurant group and other local restaurateurs to expand a pilot program called ProStart at four high schools.
The program teaches kids food preparation and service management skills.
“I am still learning about the program, but if the pilot is successful then it is possible it could grow to many more schools,” said SURG co-founder Omar Shaikh. “This would give a lot of kids an opportunity to have careers in our field as well as provide our industry with a lot more talent over the years. For the larger restaurant groups, I believe our biggest challenge is finding qualified individuals.”
The program curriculum was created by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, in 1997.
Alex Newman, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s ProStart coordinator, said MPS schools have been involved in the program in the past and Washington High School of Information Technology currently offers a one-year version of the program.
MPS will expand that program to two years and also begin offering two-year culinary programs at Bay View High School, the James Madison Academic Campus and Harold S. Vincent High School this fall.
“Connecting students with career options is a critical part of MPS’ work to prepare students to graduate college and career ready,” said Eric Radomoski, senior manager of career and technical education at MPS. “This program gives students a head start in careers ranging from chef to restaurant manager, or even a restaurant owner.
MPS administrators are hoping partnerships with prominent members of the local hospitality industry will raise the profile of the program and attract program funding. A fundraising campaign for the program will be launched this spring.
“The hospitality industry has committed to being a major funding partner and staff from Milwaukee’s finest restaurants and the hospitality industry will participate with the schools as mentors,” reads a statement posted on the MPS website.
Shaikh said Joe and Jennifer Bartolotta, who own Bartolotta Restaurants, reached out to SURG about getting involved with the MPS program. Joe Bartolotta is on the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors.
A Bartolotta Restaurant’s representative was not immediately available for comment.
“We knew we had to get involved,” Shaikh said. “At this point, we are not sure how we will be involved, but I’m sure in the coming weeks we will be working those details out.”