Feature Story

At the Head of the Table

alum in restaurant

Since his high school days delivering pizzas, Greg Quintiliano has had a passion for food and the restaurant business.

But Quintiliano wasn’t satisfied with simply working in a restaurant; he dreamed of opening his own. “I always wanted to be my own boss.”

For Quintiliano, it’s a dream fulfilled.

His restaurant – Dos Gringos Mexican Kitchen in Media – serves up traditional and modern Latin cuisine just five miles from Widener where Quintiliano studied tourism and hospitality management.

Widener’s program prepares you mentally in the classroom with professors, and physically with real-world experiences. It’s a great advantage. — Greg Quintiliano '00

Quintiliano is one of several alumni who own restaurants and credit their Widener tourism and hospitality management education and experiences with helping them find the recipe for success in an otherwise demanding and challenging field.

“They teach you the business end, how to operate a restaurant, human resources, laws, accounting. All that contributed to me getting years ahead than if I learned it on my own,” said alumnus Nick Fifis, co-owner of Ponzio’s, a family-run diner/bakery/bar in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Through Widener’s tourism and hospitality management program – part of the School of Business Administration – faculty with industry experience teach courses that prepare students for the growing and diverse tourism and hospitality field. It’s a field that encompasses not just restaurants, but hotels/resorts, clubs, sport and entertainment, education, healthcare, event planning, and more.

This fall, several new courses will focus on managing the service experience, data analytics, and technology, reflecting trends in this ever-changing world.

Outside the classroom, students serve up hundreds of hours of practical, hands-on experience, on campus and off. Through Widener’s Marriott Dining Room, they twice operate the restaurant, once as a bistro-style concept, the other as fine dining. The live operating restaurant is open to the public, and students handle everything from scheduling and managing staff, to creating menus, to developing strategic and marketing plans.

“It’s everything you’d do – but on a smaller scale – if you were opening a restaurant,” said Jeffrey Lolli, associate professor of tourism and hospitality management. “It allows students to apply what they’re learning, make mistakes, and get collective feedback. It’s taking that theoretical piece and then applying it real-time.”

Baked into the four-year tourism and hospitality program are two required paid summer field experiences, plus a paid co-op during the semester, which provide students a minimum of 1,400 hours of on-the-job practice upon graduation. Students have worked at Citizens Bank Park, the Philadelphia Zoo, J.P. Morgan, and elsewhere.

Employers frequently knock on Lolli’s door looking for Widener students to hire, and the program, over the last three years, has boasted an impressive 96 percent placement rate into entry-level management positions for graduates.

In 2017, alumnus Tak Ming Yeung was in the midst of his field experience at a restaurant when he decided to open his own – New Leaf, a Chinese-Japanese fusion eatery in nearby Broomall.

Today, Yeung is eying a second location.

“Through the tourism and hospitality program, I learned how to manage people, how to communicate with customers, and deal with crises,” said Yeung, who, understanding the value of on-location experience, recently welcomed current Widener tourism and hospitality students to New Leaf for a behind-the-scenes look at running a restaurant.

Yeung is not the only alumnus giving back to the next generation. Fifis serves on the university’s tourism and hospitality advisory board, comprised of industry professionals who help to advise the future direction of the program.

The latest Widener restaurateur is Hanyu Zhang ’17, who is preparing to open DJ Kitchen in Philadelphia. The former international student began sketching out plans for the Szechuan Chinese restaurant while studying international business at Widener, and found support on campus.

“Widener has helped me a lot. I took all kinds of different foundational classes – accounting, process management. My professors provided me advice and International Student Services offered great help, such as consulting and network developing,” he said. “I think of this restaurant business as a start of my journey.”

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