YUKON – Twice each week after the bell rings and roll is taken, 11 Canadian Valley Technology Center students board vans for a 10-mile drive.
Their destination is a local pizzeria. Lunch is still more than two hours away, but on-the-job training begins upon arrival.
Students enrolled in CV Tech’s Service Careers Hospitality program prep the Pie Five restaurant for hungry, paying customers.
Floors are swept. Restrooms are sanitized. Tables and chairs are wiped. Any surface a customer potentially touches is cleaned. Students are preparing for jobs of their own – possibly in the restaurant industry – one day.
Swinging aluminum doors separating the prep kitchen from the dining room service area get a thorough cleaning too. Hec Cox, a Mustang High School junior, sprays an all-purpose cleaner onto a rag instead of directly on the door. Doing otherwise poses a health hazard for a nearby workstation, where students are prepping pizza dough for the anticipated lunch rush.
“He has learned that and remembers how important that is,” said Hospitality instructor Markus Truelove, who himself was an area restauranteur before coming to CV Tech two years ago to launch the new program.
Pizza boxes are folded and neatly stacked by 10:45 a.m., and the work is complete. The restaurant sparkles, and students pause for a much anticipated and appreciated reward. Pizza, salad and soft drinks are on the house. The grins on their faces widen to a full smile.
Truelove carries around a job checklist. Each student is graded for each assigned task. Work performed insufficiently or improperly is pointed out, but students are always given the opportunity to earn back any missed points the next time they work, he said.
In Pizza We Crust
Billy Bajema understands the importance of doing a task well and reaping the rewards. Bajema, owner of three area Pie Five restaurants (also Edmond and Moore), parlayed a solid work ethic and job skills into a position as a starting tight end for Oklahoma State University’s football team from 2001-‘04. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and played nine seasons in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl ring with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
Once his playing days were over, Bajema invested into an upstart pizzeria that was seeking to expand beyond its north central Texas base.
Truelove approached Bajema last year with the concept of providing hands-on training inside the restaurant. Students are entrusted to do the required work, and education ensues with each swipe of a cleaning rag.
A different group of CV Tech students works nearly two hours in the afternoon each Monday and Thursday at Pie Five, prepping the restaurant for the dinner crowd. Bajema said he couldn’t be happier with the arrangement.
“I really look forward to Mondays now,” Bajema said. “We’ve got paperwork and back-of-the-house details to get ready for the week. The students knock out the prep and cleaning.
“That really sets us up well for the week. Our staff loves being around the students. It gets us started on the right foot each week. These are hard-working kids with great attitudes. They are great examples for me and for how I start my week. It is a blessing to have them.”
Kneading a Job
Two CV Tech Hospitality students also spend time each week at Yukon’s Chick-fil-A restaurant and in CV Tech’s on-campus cafeteria that is operated by the owners of Primo’s Italian Restaurant of Yukon. Truelove is also negotiating with a local hotel and an area airport so that students can learn other employability skills and have more potential job opportunities.
“I started out showing the students how to do different work in the restaurant,” Truelove said. “Now we have gotten to the point where they are self-sufficient.”
Gunner Honeyfield, an El Reno senior, washes his hands and puts on food prep gloves before portioning and weighing pizza dough and placing each rolled ball into a pan. He said the hands-on work is rewarding and that working at a restaurant is now among his plans for a first job after high school.
DID YOU KNOW?
The fast, casual dining experience features handcrafted pizzas that are customizable and cooked in less than five minutes. The dough is made fresh daily as is the signature marinara sauce. The first restaurant opened in Fort Worth, Texas, in June 2011. The first franchise locations outside Texas opened two years later in Kansas and in North Carolina. Yukon’s Pie Five is open seven days a week, from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with closing extended to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.