HARLEM — A new scholarship will give 10 workers at Harlem restaurants the chance to train at City College's Food Service Management Professional Certification Program.
The Harlem Community Development Corporation is providing $5,000 in scholarships to fund the new Harlem Ambassador Culinary Training Initiative partnership through business development group Harlem Park to Park.
The news will be announced today at the second annual Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference at the Studio Museum in Harlem where several big industry names are expected to participate in panels and workshops.
"If someone is a chef and says i want to run a restaurant they start learning the business end of managing a food service establishment. If someone is a maitre d' and says I want to be a waiter they can learn those skills," said Sharon Mackey-McGee, executive director of continuing and professional studies for City College.
Harlem's restaurant and hospitality business is growing rapidly. In just a few years, Frederick Douglass Boulevard has developed into a restaurant row with fine dining, lounges, bars and casual eateries filling the area. Upper Lenox Avenue is now developing a similar string of restaurants.
Harlem's first new hotel in 40 years, the boutique Aloft Harlem, is doing so well that a parcel of land on 126th Street purchased by a Chinese firm is being considered for development as a new hotel. And Harlem draws 1.3 million tourists per year from all over the world, making it the third most popular tourist destination in the city, according to the Harlem Community Development Corporation.
Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said his group was in support of a failed plan to bring a culinary training institute to the Corn Exchange Building in East Harlem several years ago because of the potential of the industry to provide jobs.
"We support this program because the culinary industry is literally a growth industry in Harlem and we feel it's necessary to have training on hand," Archer said. "Many people have been waiting for a culinary experience to happen in Harlem and now it's here."
The growth in Harlem's restaurant industry has been rapid, said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, president of Harlem Park to Park. Almost half of her group's 70 members are restaurants, she said.
Despite the growth in the restaurant industry, Harlem eating establishments still face tough challenges. One of the main ones is the competition for staff.
Those with experience tend to work at downtown restaurants because the pay can be better.
"You can live in Harlem because it's cheaper and work at a restaurant in Midtown without much hassle because it's just a 15, 20 minute train ride away," said Evans-Hendricks.
Harlem restaurants still have a hard time competing when it comes to pay because they don't have the same volume of customers as some downtown establishments.
"Many times Harlem restaurant owners deal with a larger volume of staff that needs training. They also deal with higher turnover in an industry already known for high turnover," said Evans-Hendricks.
The training program can help give staff a reason to stay at a Harlem restaurant and introduce people to the industry in a neighborhood that suffers from higher than average unemployment.
"You have a lot of people in Harlem that want to work in this industry but they have not had access to the top hospitality and culinary programs because of the cost or just not knowing about them," said Evans-Hendricks.
In the two years since City College launched the training program, there have been 55 students to take the course. Many of them achieved promotional opportunities as a result, said Mackey-McGee.
The hope is that this scholarship program, which Archer plans to be a yearly occurrence, will help create a cadre of experienced restaurant professionals in Harlem while bringing attention to the training available at City College.
"This is going to shape and define the hospitality industry in Harlem and help make it into an even more formidable area of growth," said Evans-Hendricks.