Since graduating from
Southeast Community College’s Food Service/Hospitality program in 2008, Mike
Vandenberg couldn’t believe the recent upgrades in the kitchens and classrooms.
“Brandon (Harpster) gave me a
tour, and seeing the new facility just blew me away,” Vandenberg said. “I joked
how I might go through the program again so I could work in these kitchens.”
SCC recently spent $4.2
million renovating the space for the Culinary/Hospitality program, as well as
adding the new high-end restaurant, Course. Vandenberg is the executive chef in
the new restaurant, which is run primarily by students. Course is open for lunch
four days a week and dinner once a week. Students spend a term working in the
restaurant so they get a feel for the industry.
“Every quarter I get an
entirely new staff, so it’s like opening a new restaurant every nine weeks,”
That’s familiar territory for
Vandenberg as he took part in opening many restaurants in Lincoln, including
Fireworks, Dozo and Single Barrel. Harpster, former program chair and now
instructor, also is a chef at Single Barrel, and that’s where Vandenberg’s link
back to SCC originated.
“He influenced me and
encouraged me to apply,” he said. “I’m familiar with the program and I know the
building, and everyone is really helpful and encouraging.”
Vandenberg started working at
the Stack-n-Steak restaurant as a high school student in Columbus. He caught on
easily and loved making his favorite meal of the day, breakfast.
“I love making breakfast, and
I love eating breakfast,” he said.
He hopes to continue that
passion with the possibility of a weekend brunch buffet, one of many ideas he
has for the restaurant.
“I’d like to see the lunches
fill up, do more regular dinners here, and it would be fun to promote special
events as well,” he added. “It’s a beautiful dining room and kitchen. I want to
see it used as much as possible.”
With 16 years of restaurant
experience, Vandenberg is looking forward to using his knowledge to help the
students while working in a state-of-the-art facility.
“I get a personal joy out of
teaching,” he said. “Seeing a student, when we correct a mistake, and then
seeing them do it (correctly) on their own gives me a good feeling.”
Harpster says his past
experience and high standard of quality will directly benefit the students
under his tutelage.
“Mike will help the program
students be better prepared for working in the industry, which is a goal for
the program,” Harpster said. “The ability he has to operate the kitchen with
such high standards will help solidify the standards we have set for the
In the meantime, Vandenberg
is getting used to his new surroundings and his new hours. This is the first
time he’s had “normal” hours at work, since he spent the past 16 years working
nights and weekends.
“I’m getting used to it,” he
said. “It’s like I tell my friends, I finally got an ‘adult’ job.”
Challenges facing him are
creating awareness about the restaurant and filling it up each day.
“If we don’t have people in
there, it’s hard for the students to learn,” Vandenberg said.
He also reminds patrons the
money spent on dining at Course goes right back into the program, so it’s well
worth the investment.
“I firmly believe you should
go out to eat a lot,” he said. “Lincoln has a good restaurant scene if you find
it. We are one of many.”
To make reservations or find
out more about the student-run restaurant, Course, log on to our website https://www.southeast.edu/course/