Alan Scheidhauer cleaned up a bakery. Reverend Vardrey Fleming drove a school bus. Laura O’Laughlin took a job as director of a school. Though vastly different stories, together these three are striving to fulfill the vision for the new Culinary Hospitality Innovation Center (CHI), part of the Poe West development in the Village of West Greenville, scheduled for completion in 2020.

The CHI facility will be the anchor tenant of Poe West, the redevelopment of the historic, nearly 60,000-square-foot former Poe West Hardware & Supply Co. at 556 Perry Avenue. A continuing education arm of Greenville Tech’s Culinary Institute of the Carolinas, CHI has the ability to impact Greenville’s current celebrated hospitality community while also bolstering a community in need of assistance.

THE BEGINNING //

More than 50 years ago, Fleming drove a bus route that dropped elementary students at what is now West Greenville School, in the area commonly referred to as the Village of West Greenville. “I didn’t turn the keys off,” he says. The same part of town that used to make him skittish is where he founded Bethel Baptist Missionary Church in the late 1970s, and where he has served as president of the West Greenville Neighborhood Association for 20 years. As a community advocate, Fleming is always looking for ways to meet the myriad of transportation and employment needs.

Almost 40 years ago, Scheidhauer took a job as clean-up boy in a Pittsburgh bakery. In his early teens at the time, that was the beginning of a long and successful career in the restaurant industry that would eventually lead him to the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas. As CHI’s director, Scheidhauer’s journey has brought him to Fleming’s neighborhood to provide a service designed for residents in walking distance of the institute’s location on Perry Avenue.

Bordering the CHI location is the West Greenville School, where Laura O’Laughlin became director three years ago. The students in her charge are assigned to this particular Greenville County Schools location after being identified as in need of hands-on learning that allows them to feel productive and valuable. The school’s current food and nutrition services program is ideal for many of these students. “The field of culinary arts is one where our students can succeed,” she says.

THE PROGRAM //

CHI is Scheidhauer’s baby. He designed the facility with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture and is writing the program’s curriculum. It’s meant to be workforce development through quick job training—in 90 days students can complete the program with reasonable expectation of job placement in either the front or back of house in a restaurant. Courses will include basic kitchen skills, knife skills, steps of service, how to sell wine. Students will learn in state-of-the-art kitchens and classrooms with plenty of hands-on experience. In the long run, CHI has the ability to create a skilled workforce in answer to the ongoing nationwide hospitality staffing shortage that is felt locally by restaurant owners, chefs, and managers every day.

Scheidhauer’s passion comes from his belief that everyone has a place and every job in a restaurant can be a career. With practical training in 90 days, those who can’t attend a full college program can position themselves to make a living.

“When I was at the Commerce Club, I always told my dishwashers they were Hobart C44 operators,” he says, referring to the conveyor dishwasher by brand and model number. That designation showed them his respect for their work and helped them take pride in a vitally important job most people wouldn’t want to do.

THE PARTNERSHIPS //

Just how CHI impacts the West Greenville area hinges on local support. And so far, there aren’t any naysayers. Fleming says he’s going to do everything he can to encourage his neighbors to enroll. “It’s something that the community can cash in on. A good cook doesn’t have to have a bachelor’s degree,” he says.

And with the facility located within walking distance to those most in need of job training, the obstacle of transportation is eliminated, he says.

O’Laughlin’s students are particularly excited about their new neighbor. Some will be able to take classes at CHI during the day. Others will work a few hours helping set up for classes. The proximity for these students is critical for their involvement, and the fact they can take advantage of extended education during their regular school day will make all the difference.

“Our students are incredibly excited,” she says. “Chef Alan was so warm and welcoming and really talked their language.”

Partnerships within the Poe West development are also forming with the other tenants. Scheidhauer plans to work with neighbors Carolina Bauernhaus, Six & Twenty Distillery, Unlocked Coffee Roasters, and LaRue Fine Chocolates for special events and class offerings.

All of these relationships and many more will help fill the void Scheidhauer sees. “We have a need here in Greenville,” he says.