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Culinary students in recovery coming into their own at Serenite

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MEDINA — Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute general manager Michael Flaherty said he’s watched students from its inaugural class grow by leaps and bounds.

“They are growing, learning and being successful,” Flaherty said. “They have the feeling that they can do it.”

The French cuisine restaurant opened in March at the former Medina Steakhouse and Saloon, 538 W. Liberty St., with a class of 12 students who began training in February.

That group has dropped to seven through attrition as their eight-month, hands-on teaching program nears its end. But the remaining students, who are going through substance-abuse recovery, could step into several high-end restaurants in Northeast Ohio and perform admirably, Flaherty said.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “They can go on to be general managers or owners and have a life-changing career.”

The Medina native said there were several reasons the first class has dropped in size.

“For some, it’s not for them,” Flaherty said.

“In theory, they want to be a chef. It’s the age of celebrity chefs. They see them on TV. It’s very glamorous. But if you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, it’s not glamorous. It’s long hours. You’re on your feet a lot. It’s scrubbing pots and pans. It’s mincing things. It’s a lot of work.”

Flaherty said one student dropped out on the second day.

“It’s not a walk in the park,” he said.

For another student, she simply wasn’t ready.

“One student was in the program for two weeks or so,” Flaherty said.

“She reassessed things. She needed more stability in her personal life. She was becoming overwhelmed and was missing class.

“She was probably four or five months into recovery. She was not entirely stable. It’s up to us to help with that. She wasn’t quite there yet.”

After she has that stability, the institute recommended that she come back perhaps for the third class.

“We don’t want to overwhelm anyone,” Flaherty said. “(Working at the restaurant) and going through outpatient treatment, it’s a lot. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize their recovery.”

Jess Hazeltine, administrative manager for the Recovery Center of Medina County, said for students if they hadn’t been working at the recovery center, “chances are they’d had fallen through the cracks. We’re here to help people in recovery.”

In the program, some of the students in the first class started in the front of the house (in the dining room) and some in the back (kitchen).

Flaherty said they rotate the students, so they know how to run the entire restaurant.

“It’s a good format,” he said. “Most importantly, it helps students to develop leadership skills.”

Learning how to greet a guest properly is a skill, he said. He said he’s walked into some restaurants where the person at the front was more interested in being on their phone than welcoming a customer the right way.

“First impressions are very important,” Flaherty said.

He said the students are taught several other jobs in the front of the restaurant, including running food, handling reservations, seating the floor, and describing the dishes and the wines to the customers.

In the back of the house, they learn how to make salads, prep the food and make food from scratch, among several other duties.

“All those skills will allow them to work at any high-end restaurant in Medina, Akron or Cleveland,” he said.

The second class at Serenite began July 25 with four members.

Flaherty also said he’s heard nothing but positive feedback from the public on the restaurant itself.

“So far, so good,” he said. “People genuinely enjoy the product. You have to be putting out good food. That’s what brings people back. If you’re not putting out a quality product, people won’t be back.

“It’s been a hot topic (due to the restaurant serving alcohol). You can win people over and get them involved with our mission.”

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.


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