“We want to teach you some of the fundamentals that are successful in the workplace,” explains Mickey Bakst, speaking to a group of high schoolers out in front of Charleston Place. “I want to remind you that your teachers are not saying you should necessarily go into hospitality, but that working in the industry can give you the tools to pay your way through college.”
Bakst pauses to let the implications sink in. The kids wear white button ups and black aprons with shiny nametags at their lapels. They are part of a project known as Teach the Need founded by Michael Miller and Mickey Bakst, the General Manager of Charleston Grill, that enable Charleston-area students to learn practical skills to enter the work force via the hospitality industry, skills such as writing a resume, setting a table, tying a tie, and walking into an interview with a smile and a firm handshake. These are skills that Miller, who is on the Charleston County School Board, readily admits area high schools can’t always provide.
The programs last seven weeks, and have garnered interest from many prominent front-of-the house figures of Charleston’s restaurant industry, who serve as sponsors and mentors, travelling to St. John’s High School, Wando High School, and West Ashley High School to provide instruction. The students are selected carefully by the school administrations based on a combination of need, drive, and commitment.
“Our whole mission is to be able to have some of these kids work in our own restaurants,” explains John Parrish, GM of Wild Olive. John and Mickey have hit on a strong point: despite the fact that Charleston has such a thriving food and beverage scene, oftentimes those hired are from neighboring states rather from the greater Charleston area. It is something they hope to be able to change.
Recently, the children received a full tour of Charleston Place and that ended with a dining experience at Charleston Grill. Sitting at lunch with Mickey and some of the students, Parrish gives the kids a rundown on silverware (and even I pick up a few things). The three girls across from me listen attentively. They are both curious and ambitious. Juliette is attending the University of South Carolina in the fall and wants to study chemistry, while Jessica loves writing and has her eye on College of Charleston. Kalea is starting at Trident Technical College and hopes to be able to transfer to the Medical University of South Carolina for nursing.
With the help of Teach the Need, I have no doubts all three will succeed.