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The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

Culinary team creates restaurant

Southern Strides concept takes on nationals
provided by Molly Gordon
This was the team’s first time competing and Wando’s first time back in years. “Getting fourth place on a national level is something that I would say majority of high school students will never accomplish in their career… So for Wando, being our first year back, winning state and then getting a championship placement [at] nationals was better than I could even imagine,” Gordon said.

Food preparations. Floor plans. Script practices. Concept corrections. All for one common dream. A restaurant.

Senior Cooper Stapleton along with juniors Sarah Dzielinski and Remell Bagtas all created a hypothetical restaurant named Southern Strides. Stapleton and the team planned out every detail of their Southern Strides restaurant, and spent nearly 200 hours preparing for their state competition where they would showcase their restaurant in front of judges.

“We were part of this program called ProStart. It’s a career and technical education program that unites the food service industry, and the classroom to teach high school students culinary skills and restaurant management,” Stapleton said. “We did a restaurant management project, so we had to create our own restaurant and do menu planning, costing, interior decor, and we took that to state so we competed with that.”

The team practiced their scripts, showcased their food, and answered questions about their restaurant and certain scenarios in front of mock judges before the state competition in Myrtle Beach.

Eventually, the hours upon hours of work paid off as the team went on to win first place at states, sending them to the national competition a few weeks later.

“We were up against eight teams so when we competed, we had six rounds of seven minute judging time to do a little bit of our concept script and then we got questioning via the judges [which was on] different aspects of concept marketing menu, food planning and critical thinking,” Stapleton said. “I was super nervous at states. I really wanted to go to nationals in Baltimore and I was counting down as they did fifth, fourth and third and it wasn’t us and then when second place was called and it wasn’t us. It felt really good that we knew we won states and we were going to nationals.”

After the first ever state win, Stapleton and the team got back to work, making small corrections and changes before heading to nationals. The national competition was similar to the state one, except each state winner was competing against one another in hopes of coming home with the first place title.

“For nationals, we didn’t make any major changes. We have the same concept… and we did just tweak some things in our concept paper, changing words and we did change one of our menu items from a dessert [and] added another entree,” Dzielinski said.

For culinary teacher and chef Molly Gordon, it was her first time ever attending and having a team compete in these competitions. She helped guide the members, but also noticed how well everyone worked together.

Senior Cooper Stapleton helped come up with the idea of Southern Strides for their restaurant concept. As the only senior on the team, Stapleton was able to learn valuable lessons while working with his other teammates.

“It’s very unique to find a team with three different individuals who are so different that actually work in harmony with each other and balance each other out. Cooper is the oldest of the bunch. He really took reins and a leadership role of holding the younger underclass- men accountable,” Gordon said. “Sarah was our tech girl and design girl. She’s just great at just sitting in and getting stuff done… and she was great answering the critical thinking questions. Remell added a lot of creativity. He’s really good with just the hypothetical concept of it’s a fake restaurant, but could walk you through every inch of that restaurant and what it looks like.”

Gordon said by the way the group performed and the feedback from the judges, she knew they had a solid chance at winning states. When second place was called, Gordon knew the next announcement would either make or break them.

“When they said our name, it’s almost like in the movies where everything is blurry. And you just hear that like high pitched noise [and] it seems so fake. I just started to cry because the hard work and all the hours truly paid off,” Gordon said. “We were absolutely the underdog rookie team that everyone doubted and no one paid attention to… we just swept the competition. I think everyone was shocked. It was just the best feeling ever.”

For nationals the team competed in front of judges and were given seven minutes to talk about the floor plans, concepts, and marketing before managers who work in the service industry asked them real world questions.

After that, Gordon and the team awaited anxiously for their placing, hoping for a top 10 finish.

“So we’re sitting there and you don’t want to hear your name called first. So fifth place is called and it was team Florida… and when Florida, which is one of the teams I thought was going to do well, didn’t go as high as I thought they would, that made me more confident in our place,” Gordon said. “I remember, they say, ‘Culinary Arts fourth place’… I can’t believe it, so the kids shoot off… running because they’re so proud. They got these huge medals. So they were super proud.”

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