Delaware Pilots National Culinary Apprenticeship Program

April 29, 2022

If you’re like one in three Americans, your first job was in the restaurant industry, which is the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer, according to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).

There are 13 million people employed in restaurants and food service operations, and an ongoing need for more skilled labor in the field – particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To boost the ranks, the NRAEF launched the Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship (RYRA) Program in 2020. Delaware is one of just four states to pilot the culinary apprenticeship program.

“We want to attract people into this industry and empower them with related training and on-the-job learning,” says Raelynn Grogan, senior director of the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which manages the state’s program. “Then we want to advance them.”

Delaware was selected for the pilot partly due to the Delaware Restaurant Association’s experience. “We had a lot of previous grassroots efforts in the apprenticeship realm about two years ago, so we helped create benchmarks for the NRAEF,” Grogan explains.

Delaware’s size is another reason. “I think the size of our state makes us a little petri dish, if you will,” Grogan adds. “Our size helps with accessibility, promotion, convening and coordination.”

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delaware Department of Labor, a separate fund supports NRAEF’s Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA) program. This program targets new and current restaurant and food service workers who want to advance their careers.

“Think of it as two separate pots of funds available for those older than 24 (HRSA) and those between the ages of 17 and 24 (RYRA),” Grogan explains.

Both programs have tracks for restaurant managers and line cooks. Participants receive the following:

  • On-the-job paid training in a restaurant setting for front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house
  • Job-related education in a classroom or online
  • Access to nationally recognized credentials from the restaurant industry and the U.S. Department of Labor

The restaurant management track also includes basic leadership training and financial management and marketing skills. Line cook participants also learn basic culinary skills, food safety and sanitation knowledge, along with inventory and supply management fundamentals.

The apprenticeships launched with SoDel Concepts, a Sussex County, Delaware, hospitality group. The first apprentice enrollees graduated in Fall 2021 with a Line Cook Apprenticeship Journeyperson Certificate.

Enrollment is ongoing. The RYRA Program more recently has enrolled line cook apprentices with the hospitality companies Platinum Dining Group and Big Fish Restaurant Group. Other participating employers include Ashby Hospitality Group, Harrington Raceway & Casino, Harry’s Hospitality Group and Two Stones Pub locations.

“This program is the beginning of what will likely be a lifelong career for most people involved,” says Michael Stiglitz, founder of Two Stones. “Every position within our industry is a career path. The lifelong skills acquired, the friendships made and the journey through a rewarding career all begin with this first chosen step of joining the program.”

Xavier Teixido of Harry’s Hospitality Group agrees. “One of the keys to the program is that it ties youth interested in hospitality careers to employers offering skills training and mentoring,” he says. “It’s a win-win for all participants.”

Apprentices in RYRA’s restaurant management track must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED at the time of entry. Line cook apprentices must be 17.

Many apprentices are affiliated with NRAEF’s ProStart Program in Delaware, a two-year high school curriculum. “Either they’re graduates, or they’re currently in a program,” says Grogan, the local coordinator, noting participants from Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School and Cape Henlopen High School.

The state apprenticeship program also reaches out to the Wilmington Job Corps Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, The Teen Warehouse in Wilmington, Children’s Beach House in Lewes, and the Food Bank of Delaware’s culinary training program.

“We are excited to deepen our partnership with the Delaware Restaurant Association and provide information about and referrals to the RYRA program to eligible students,” says Anna McDermott, the Food Bank’s strategic initiatives director. “The restaurant apprenticeship program offers the opportunity to continue to learn and grow while earning a wage.”

The grant funds are available until 2024. To become an employer or an apprentice, call the Delaware Restaurant Association at 302-738-2545.