City College of San Francisco's cafeteria is not just a place for students to buy food, it's a training ground for culinary arts and hospitality students who get hands-on experience in their fields.
But the training program, which allows students to prepare and serve hundreds of meals a day, is now set to become the latest victim of budget cuts unless a fundraising campaign starting Monday is successful, according to college officials.
The culinary arts and hospitality program must cut $250,000 from its $1.6 million budget, which will prompt the closure of the cafeteria in three months unless additional funds can be found, department chair Tannis Reinhertz said Friday.
The cafeteria is at the core of the culinary arts program, Reinhertz said. Students working in the cafeteria gain critical experience working in a high-volume environment, perfecting the repetitive knife and line skills that make them desirable to employers.
Losing the cafeteria "would really gut the program," which currently has around an 80 percent hire rate for graduates, Reinhertz said.
While the culinary arts program serves a total of 900 meals a day between its three outlets, the bulk of those meals are served in the cafeteria.
"The cafeteria is really the critical piece that makes us not like anyone else," Reinhertz said.
While the program could recoup some costs by raising prices, the college has committed to keeping food prices low for students by subsidizing meals, Reinhertz said. At the same time, other costs like the price of food and wages for instructors keep rising.
The cuts to the culinary arts program are being made in response to a $14 million budget deficit projected for the next fiscal year, according to David Dore, dean of the college's School of Business. That deficit could reach as high as $26 million if certain measures on November's ballot fail.
"Our students are some of the finest you'll meet," Dore said. "They're really passionate about food and service, and many will serve at City College all day and then go work for an employer at night," he added. "These are not wealthy, spoiled students."
On Monday, in an effort to save the cafeteria, school officials plan to launch a fundraising campaign targeting graduates of the culinary arts program.
The program, which was the first two-year culinary program in the country when it started in 1936, graduates roughly 50 to 70 people each semester, but Reinhertz said that until recently college officials had done a poor job of keeping track of alumni.
She said she is hopeful that outreach efforts will bring in a positive response and donations.
"In the past couple of years we've been really focusing on trying to reconnect with our alumni," she said. "We have this sort of information network, but we've never really tried to formalize it before."