New Bloch opportunity gives students the keys to success
Through its unique expertise and deep connections, UMKC offers its students valuable opportunities.
Victoria Chestnut’s dream is to own a restaurant. She has the concept nailed down and even a name F.U.N. Foods — the initials stand for fresh, unprocessed, natural.
“A lot of people are busy and work 50-plus hours a week, and those people want to eat healthy,” said Chestnut, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is now pursuing an MBA. “I plan to serve vegetable pastas and protein bowls.”
But even if the food is delicious and the branding is solid, there’s much more to the restaurant business — an industry where the closing rate is high and there are numerous, challenging variables. That’s why Chestnut is happy to be involved in a new for-credit internship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City: the Cornbread Buffet, a restaurant in the Landing shopping center at 63rdStreet just east of Troost Avenue.
The idea for the restaurant internship program began a few years ago when Tony Mendes, managing director of the UMKC Henry W. Bloch School of Management’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; David Block, president of Block & Co. Realtors; and Ivan Marquez, a successful Kansas City area restauranteur, joined forces.
The Full Employment Council also helped fund the restaurant program, supplementing an hourly wage for students. In addition to providing important educational opportunities, the organization regards the Cornbread Buffet as a significant community development because it’s east of Troost Avenue — historically Kansas City’s racial dividing line.
The semester-long curriculum includes Marquez bringing in representatives from the community to teach the students how to negotiate and work with food and equipment providers, as well as give them experience in more than one type of restaurant.
“We want to prepare students for success from the start,” Mendes said.
Just a few weeks into the semester, Chestnut already feels successful. She’s learned enough to know that when she starts her restaurant, it will initially be a food truck since she’s a solo entrepreneur. The goal is to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant after she’s proven the concept.
At Cornbread Buffet, Chestnut runs the cash register in the front of the restaurant, manages inventory, hires and schedules employees and handles payroll. She also had a hand in creating the press release that initially promoted the restaurant.
Local news media covered the story of this unusual restaurant. When Cornbread Buffet opened, customers lined up outside the door for the comfort-food menu: fried chicken, okra, mashed potatoes, beans-and-ham and, of course, cornbread.
“I really like that I can learn every single part of the restaurant business here,” Chestnut said. “There’s something new each day.”