Heidi Ahrens and Krista Emery, both Hospitality Management Hotel and Restaurant students at Humber College, have won the Restaurant Innovation Competition.
Markham restaurant Frankie Tomatto’s sponsored the Ontario-wide competition for the second year boasting a top prize of $3,000.
The eight finalists competed on stage at the Restaurant Canada show on March 2 at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto.
“I have always said the winner of the innovation award will have the best resume in Canada and there should be a bidding war to hire those people,” said Hal Roback, owner of Frankie Tomatto’s and creator of the Restaurant Innovation competition.
Nicole Chuchmuch, an instructor in the Humber program and the competition’s faculty advisor, said students had to come up with a business idea that would benefit the entire restaurant industry.
“Don’t be a ‘me too.’ Don’t be a copier, you have to be original.
Ahrens and Emery competed against 19 others from a variety of colleges and universities.
Roback said the competition was a time-consuming, late night endeavor that will put them ahead of all other graduates and should make them eligible for the best jobs in Canada.
“I would much rather talk to the winner of the innovation award rather than someone who has a 4.0 grade average,” said Roback.
Ahrens said people look down on colleges and that some say they should be going to university.
“Then, you know, all of a sudden – bam – colleges win,” she said.
Ahrens said the duo’s innovation is to create an amateur hospitality certificate program for students in high school to get them more aware of career opportunities in the food and beverage industry.
“Our program offers a one-week summer program with hands-on activities, learning from professionals in the industry and information about their different jobs as well as a wide array of different careers in the food and beverage industry,” said Emery.
Ahrens said one of the goals of the competition is for young people to learn that jobs in restaurants aren’t just part-time jobs or stepping stones to other careers.
Ahrens and Emery came up with their idea after applying what they learned at Humber.
“We learned in class about the top five problems in the industry and one of the issues is the shortage of skilled labour,” said Ahrens.
There is a significant skilled labour shortage stretching from now and into 2030, said Chuchmuch.
“The girls felt we need to take a step back and start at grade school and high school to teach them that there are great careers in this industry,” she said.
Ahrens and Emery say they had a lot of support going into the project, which contributed to their success.
“For us turning this into a business, I feel really confident that it’s going to go well and is going to move forward,” Emery said.
Ahrens said their program coordinator even cancelled class on the day of the competition so that all of the course’s staff and students could attend to cheer them on.
“We had more support than any of the other schools did,” said Emery.
Roback says Ahren’s and Emery’s idea was excellent and shows they think outside the box. It is exactly what the innovative contest is about.
“The girls are very smart, very confident. They were able to ask questions and make up their own mind on things,” he said. “They certainly had their own vision on what they wanted.”
He said people like Ahrens and Emery are “sorely missing” in the industry and that people need to stick to their own guns and believe in themselves.
“Don’t be a ‘me too.’ Don’t be a copier, you have to be original. Even going into management. Keep on questioning why is it being done this way and what would be a better way of doing it,” he said.