It goes without saying that Ohio State overtakes any conversation regarding Columbus-area colleges and universities. And for good reason: it’s a large, historic school offering fantastic academic, social, and athletic opportunities. With this being said, it’s time for us to take a look around a bit more, and notice the exceptional programs offered by smaller Columbus colleges.
For the last 40 years, Columbus State Community College has offered its students the ability to major in culinary programs, and now it boasts hospitality management, hotel and event planning, and dietetics degrees to its students as well.
Its recently completed Mitchell Hall, named for Columbus restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, will house labs, classrooms, and even a full-service restaurant and café and bakery for these programs. The program size will double to accommodate 1,500 students, pushing the creativity and quality of potential new Columbus chefs and restaurateurs to the next level.
“We plan to be regionally competitive. Before this, we never marketed for specific programs,” said Joshua Wickham, Director of Operations for the College of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts at Columbus State. “We’ve always had our recruiters who recruited for the college—not specific programs. We’re changing that now. We’ve actually hired a full-time recruiter, and all she does is recruit for our hospitality programs.”
But all of this didn’t happen overnight. Mitchell Hall, which was opened to the public for tours for the first time on August 13 of this year, has been five years in the making. The project broke ground in April of 2018. “It’s taken almost 18 months to complete— from a parking lot to this,” Wickham said.
And it also didn’t happen for free. According to Wickham, the building cost a total of roughly $34 million. Public funding came from Columbus State itself, with additional funds from the state of Ohio. Private philanthropy will provide $10 million of support, much of it from corporate sponsorship, including Bundy Baking Solutions, the namesake of the school’s Bundy Baking Lab.
According to Wickham, nearly 75% of the private funding has already been secured, which Mitchell spearheaded with a $2.5 million gift from Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.
Housed within Mitchell Hall’s 80,000 square feet and its three stories are large, sleek classrooms; a culinary, mixology, and baking lab; plus a fully-functional café and bakery and a restaurant that will be open to the public, yet run by Columbus State students.
Each program is eight weeks long, and alternates between classroom sessions, lab work, and most interestingly, a four-hour work shift in either the college’s restaurant or café and bakery. This, Wickham insists, is not just the best way to learn about culinary work; it’s the only way. “You have to touch it, definitely. You just have to touch it,” he said. “You can’t just talk theory. You need to feel the heat of the kitchen, the pressure of the customers. That’s what gives us our edge and will allow us to provide that level of education.”
While the bakery will craft its own bread and sell fresh soups and other small items, the Columbus State restaurant, Degrees, will operate on an entirely different scale. The 50-seat eatery will be entirely student-run (as the bakery will be), and gives students a wholly unique chance to experience their craft live, and with the safety off.
And Wickham’s previous use of the word pressure rings even more true, as Degrees features an open kitchen separated from diners by a single sheet of transparent glass, making sure those studying the culinary arts are well equipped for the high-stress environments they will likely encounter in the real world.
“It’s a different experience when you’re back there cooking and you have a bunch of people sitting right there,” said Wickham.
And while students will take important vocational lessons away from the establishment, Columbus residents shouldn’t write it off as an educational gimmick. With a kitchen featuring a litany of brand-new, state-of-the-art machines and cooking implements, Degrees plans to o er approachable food that is still loaded with flavor and personality.
Although the menu hadn’t been released publicly at the time of press, Wickham says it will feature hearty contemporary American cuisine, with signature sandwiches and flatbreads to boot. In addition to food, the location boasts a full-service bar selling liquor, wine, and beer to customers after 5:00 p.m.
The restaurant will open to the public at the end of October (while the bakery, called Blend, opens in late September), and will serve Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. for lunch, and from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. for dinner.
Mitchell Hall sits along the east side of Cleveland Avenue on the Columbus State Community College campus.