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Bulls Bistro Caters to Community While Letting USF Hospitality Management Students Shine

By Elizabeth L. Brown

Students prepping slices of pie

LAKEWOOD RANCH (October 29, 2021) – On a recent Thursday night, about 35 local patrons enjoyed dinner out along Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. The wait staff at Bulls Bistro served an All-American BBQ menu of honey cornbread muffins, a cilantro lime watermelon feta salad, and chicken sliders with a side of potato salad. The meal ended with a slice of Grandma’s Apple Pie.

The guests weren’t just having a night out with friends. They were also part of a hospitality management “incubator” run by USF Muma College of Business’ School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Bulls Bistro is a series of dining events where students in USF’s Restaurant Operations class get first-hand experience running a restaurant and providing a dinner experience.

“We’re not a culinary school. It’s to give the students this hands-on experiential learning,” said Instructor Garry Colpitts. “From the students, it’s just a resounding, profound, positive experience.”

Student serving attendees

‘It’s real’

“When you look behind you, it’s real,” he said. “There’s real wine. There’s real food. These are real people. It’s real time management. It’s real critical-thinking skills.”

That real-life experience included solving normal problems that pop up at a restaurant. For example, the night’s dishwasher called in sick, so the team had to jump in and cover for the call-out.

Hospitality management students in the Restaurant Operations class are required to work six Bulls Bistros as part of the intensive curriculum. In the first six weeks of the course, Colpitts covers more traditional lectures. The second half of the class gives students the direct experience of running a restaurant through Bulls Bistro.

Students lead

Student server chatting with attendees

Colpitts said students take the lead by planning the menu, doing the shopping, pricing out the ingredients, and keeping an inventory of items. During Thursday’s event, students did everything from start to finish.

USF student Lisette Anton, a hospitality management major set to graduate in 2022, said her experience working at Bulls Bistro has opened her eyes to the problem-solving and planning skills required to run a restaurant.

“The biggest surprise is how on top of everything you have to be,” Anton said. “You can’t let things slack, otherwise, you’re not going to hit the right timelines or get the food out on time. And you want to make sure people are happy.”

The Oct. 28 event was her fourth time working at Bulls Bistro. She said she has enjoyed getting to know the regular customers and the experience lets her put what she learned in the classroom into practice.

“I’m a hands-on learner. I like to physically be able to see what I’m doing and being able to do it myself,” she said.

Student server chatting with attendees

USF senior Amie Powell served as the team leader at the Oct. 28 Bulls Bistro. She said she loves how the Bulls Bistro is a way to show the community what USF Bulls hospitality management students can do.

“It opens up the public on what our university does,” Powell said. “With this class, I enjoy the hands-on experience. It opened my eyes to being cost-effective in getting as much product as possible.”

As the team leader, Powell helped manage her peers to ensure the dinner service would run smoothly. That included assisting with the prep work, like picking out the color of the napkins and the types of plates to use with the night’s theme.

That also includes some quick thinking. Powell said she came into the night’s Bulls Bistro realizing the team needed to add knives to the silverware — a last-minute change — and had to make sure those were cleaned and polished.

Community Support

Attendees chatting

Stan Jernigan of Lakewood Ranch said he and his wife Deborah have been attending Bulls Bistro nights for the past five years. He said he loves supporting hospitality management students. He and his wife have recruited a group of about 12 friends who also are regular attendees.

“We love it. We love that the students do a majority of the work,” Jernigan said. “We love how the students create their menus. The instructors give them the responsibility and hold them to it. Honestly, in the five and a half years we’ve been coming here, I can tell you I’ve never had a bad meal here.”

USF’s Culinary Innovation Lab is holding two upcoming Bulls Bistro nights on Nov. 4 and 18, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. The cost is $30 for each guest. Tickets include three tapas and either two glasses of wine or two glasses of domestic beer.