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Worcester Tech eyes teaching café

Worcester Technical High School’s Culinary and Pastry Arts Department is preparing to launch a teaching café at the TidalHealth Ocean Pines Campus, allowing students to receive hands-on education and give back to the community.

Tech school cafe

The current café site at the TidalHealth Ocean Pines Campus, pictured, will soon be taken over by the tech school’s culinary and pastry arts program.
Courtesy photo

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

Worcester Technical High School’s Culinary and Pastry Arts Department prepares to launch a teaching café at the TidalHealth Ocean Pines Campus, allowing students to receive additional hands-on education and deliciously give back to the community. 

The Pines Café by Worcester Technical High School will open in late August or early September 2024 and has secured the space for three years. It will welcome customers Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shop will feature coffee, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, lunch, soups, and salads prepared by the culinary and pastry program students. 

The goal is to eventually extend the hours based on the volume of business the shop receives. 

“The TidalHealth campus opens for lab work at 6 a.m.,” said Phillip Cropper, the program’s head chef. “What better way after 12 hours of fasting for lab work than to start your day with a freshly baked muffin, breakfast sandwich, or house-roasted cup of coffee.”

According to the educator and former restaurant owner, the idea was conceived when he visited the Ocean Pines TidalHealth space and discovered that the facility’s café had been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I had wanted to create a teaching cafe for a few years to give my students additional opportunities but logistically could not find a space that worked,” Cropper said. “I contacted Mr. Scott Phillips, a Vice President with TidalHeath, and the collaboration was born.” 

Cropper pitched the idea to his direct supervisors and the Worcester County Board of Education to evaluate the café’s practicality. The initiative was approved. 

“WCPS has work-based learning opportunities …, and The Pines Cafe is just another example of our commitment to growing our local workforce and meeting community needs,” Worcester County Public School Career and Technology Education Coordinator Brian Phillips said. 

Phillips explained that the school system continually monitors workforce demands using Maryland’s Occupational and Industry Projections database and that the Pines Cafe was a “product of this practice.”

“Demand for jobs in the consumer services, hospitality, and tourism career clusters have the highest number of projected jobs in Worcester, so we were excited to expand our Culinary Arts program with a Youth Apprenticeship program that also served one of our local communities,” Phillips said. “… These program expansions build capacity in our students and help us to better address workforce demands.”

The endeavor was also accepted as a job site for the Apprenticeship Maryland program, which offers students “paid opportunities to join the workforce while still in school.” 

Up to three students will work as interns at the café and will be supervised by two part-time managers the program plans to hire. The managers will also oversee daily operations, Cropper said. 

The shop is expected to be self-sufficient. After payroll, operation costs, and consumables, all profit will return to Worcester Tech’s culinary arts department.

The café’s employees during business hours will be seniors who have finished one year of the culinary or pastry program in their junior year and have their Certified Fundamental Pastry or Certified Fundamental Cook credentials from the American Culinary Federation. 

Cropper expects his students servicing the site to learn proper knife skills, cooking techniques, food safety and sanitation, menu planning and development, culinary math and basic bookkeeping, inventory management, communication, customer support, leadership, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. 

Cropper curated the menu with input from his 2023-2024 school-year students. It includes a Southwest breakfast wrap, croissant sandwiches, overnight oats, jumbo muffins, gluten-free chocolate oat cookies, fruit tarts, scones, apple turnovers, pumpkin blondies, a Mediterranean salad, Tuscan chicken noodle soup, and an array of cold sandwiches and hot grilled paninis. 

Cropper, who is in his 14th year teaching for Worcester County, said the culinary and pastry department has 32 students accepted yearly, 16 of whom are enrolled in the culinary branch and 16 in the professional baking and pastry classes. Both programs consistently have a waiting list.

“The Pines Café will serve as a dynamic educational tool for WTHS’s culinary students, bridging the gap between academic learning and practical experience,” Cropper said. “For the community, it will act as a vibrant center for social interaction, economic support, and educational enrichment, ultimately fostering a stronger, more connected community and a more robust culinary program at WTHS.” 

This story appears in the June 27, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.