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[caption id="attachment_55736" align="alignright" width="450" caption="Baking & Pastry Arts students have a dedicated real-world learning lab at the new Bakery Cafe by Illy (Photo credit: CIA)"][/caption]

ST. HELENA – The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is currently evaluating data gathered during the inaugural cohort of a new six-week, cafe and bakery capstone course for students in the school’s Baking & Pastry Arts department, the newest development in an expanding associate degree program.

The Bakery Cafe by Illy, a dedicated commercial facility, is staffed by students in the final phase of their associate in occupational studies degree and opened to customers in May.

While students have previously operated “pop-up” cafes across the campus, organizers said the new, permanent facility will help grow a customer base and provide a robust learning lab that prepares students for the reality of working in the field.

“This is really the six-week block where students get to use everything they’ve learned over the past two years,” said Robert Jorin, who heads the department.

The Baking & Pastry Arts department transitioned from a certificate to a two-year associate program three years ago, responding in particular to demand from younger students seeking a more prestigious designation and looking to transfer to a four-year degree, Mr. Jorin said.

The new cafe – the latest addition to the program – hosted its first cohort in May. The six-week course was divided into two phases: 18 students spent alternating three-week periods working either in food preparation or “the front of the house,” with an instructor assigned to each group.

Those instructors also played a managerial role, encouraging cohesion between the two sides of the operation, said Dustin Rogge, an instructor who worked with the first group.

“It was great to model how positive interaction between the front and back of the house can have a positive impact on business,” Mr. Rogge said, refuting an old paradigm of separation.

In the setting, students were able to experiment with the minutiae of the cafe, observing real-world results where small changes like utensil placement can have a measurable impact on the customer experience, he said.

In the weeks since opening, customers to the 40-seat cafe have largely included area residents and visitors. In addition to typical cafe faire like coffee and pastries, the facility also serves items like beer and fresh-baked bread.

Before opening, Mr. Rogge and students embarked on a tour of the region to inform wineries and other popular stops about the new facility.

“We went up and down Highway 29, visiting wineries, shaking hands and handing out goody bags,” he said. “The word of mouth is starting to spread.”

Business has steadily increased, though school officials said that it was still too early to project revenue or customer load.

Yet any revenue generated at the cafe – which is not a purely profit-making venture – will circle back to the school to help reduce tuition and support other ventures. The facility is primarily focused on education, and students working full-time are not paid.

Depending on the customer load, Mr. Jorin said that the school may choose to hire additional staff in the future. Outdoor seating could be added in the future as well, along with a continued focus on schedule and menu optimization.

“Working in the new cafe space was a learning experience for all of us. I have opened several cafes like the one we opened at Greystone, so I started the class by telling the students that their flexibility and input are crucial,” said Aaron Brown, another instructor who worked with the initial group.

Students are evaluated based on performance and professionalism during the course, and are asked to further develop skills learned throughout the program, Mr. Brown said.

A hired student staff has kept the cafe open, pending a new cohort in August. After that time, academic programs will exist continually at the site.

The cafe is not the only commercial venture that supports programs at Greystone, as The Wine Spectator Restaurant is a mainstay for tourists. Mr. Jorin said that the cafe could appeal to a different sort of visitor, and is optimally positioned near the campus’s gift shop.

“People who don’t’ really want to sit down for a one-and-a-half hour lunch can go there,” he said.

The Bakery & Pastry program currently enrolls 66 at Greystone. Employment prospects for those students remain favorable in both the North Bay and beyond, with 40-50 percent of program graduates remaining in the region. 60-70 percent of graduates across all of the school’s programs remain in the region.

The approximately 200-student St. Helena campus is part of a four-campus system, headquartered at a 2,200-student campus in Hyde Park, N.Y. The school operates a campus in San Antonio, Texas and a cooperative program with the Singapore Institute of Technology in Singapore.

The Bakery Cafe by Illy is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The website for the cafe is www.ciarestaurants.com/california-campus-restaurants/the-bakery-cafe-by-illy/.