Hospitality management students serve hand-tossed pizza in cafe 'lab'

By Lauren Schuchart

"I've always had a passion for pizza," said Jeff Boggie, chef instructor at Penn State's University Park campus. The pizza, offered at lunchtime in the School of Hospitality Management, has become a destination "must have" for many.

The pizza program in the School of Hospitality Management is a slice of a much larger curriculum that teaches students how to manage hospitality enterprises. In this class, students learn how to make handmade pies while learning the ropes of the pizza business.

Several years ago, "Chef Jeff," as students affectionately call him, took part in a three-day workshop run by a pizza expert from Chicago. He has been sharing that knowledge and passion with his students ever since.

"Chef Jeff is so adamant about pizza making. We have no choice but to be excited about it!" said Shannon Hawkins, a student majoring in hotel, restaurant and institutional management (HRIM).

Pizza is a staple on college campuses. So what makes the school's pizza so unique?

"It is rare to find pizza that is homemade and hand-tossed," said Boggie. "With our own signature dough and sauce, our pizza is only one of its kind. If you want it, you have to come to Cafe Laura to get it."

Cafe Laura, the school's restaurant and "living laboratory," gives students hands-on experience in the planning, marketing, preparation and service of the dining experience. Learning how to make pizza is a challenging, yet enjoyable, experience for students.

"Chef Jeff doesn't just tell us to do something, but he explains why each step is important in the larger picture," said Hawkins.

In addition to learning how to make the pizza, students also learn how to run and manage a successful business. According to Chef Jeff, the key ingredient is consistency.

"We experiment with the pizza over and over again until it is perfected. After that, the standardized recipe is given to students to make without variation," said Boggie. "Consistency is key in any food industry."

While consistency is very important, the managers at Cafe Laura don't want to stifle the students' creativity. Students can make suggestions as to what toppings are used on the pizza.

"We've come up with some pretty interesting combinations," said Jonathon Blose, a student majoring in HRIM. "I've made cheese steak, barbeque chicken, tomato-basil, white pizza, and meatballs. You name it, we've probably tried it."

In addition to learning how to run a pizza business, students learn vital lessons about the entire hospitality industry.

"We learn how to work together as a team. We'll have one person tossing and flattening the dough, while another person adds the toppings," said Blose. "Everyone's different; we have to be able to work with customers and coworkers, all coming from different experiences."

 As the pizza at Cafe Laura becomes more and more popular, customers wonder: what will the students serve up next?

"We are looking to grow into stromboli, calzones and stuffed pizza," said Chef Jeff. "This is just the beginning of what we can do."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010