Sept. 10, 2007
When Romeo Rafila left Romania with a high school education at the age of 25, he never dreamed he would someday land a management position in one of New York City's elite hotels, Le Parker Meridien.

He certainly wouldn't have imagined that the path he'd take to get there would be through HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College. Or that he'd be the first graduate of a new collaboration that involved real-world experience in one of central Pennsylvania's best restaurants, Bricco.

"My field of study in high school had nothing to do with hospitality," said Rafila. "I was supposed to become an engineer, but that's because my parents thought it would be a good career. Later on I learned to decide for myself and plan my own future."

After four contracts with Princess Cruises and two years living in Florida, he returned to Romania to spend time with his family. A friend told him about HACC and its hospitality program. The Internet made it easy for him to research HACC's program, and he decided to return to the U.S. to continue his education there.

Originally majoring in Hotel and Restaurant Management, he changed his focus to Restaurant Management. He was one of the first to work in Bricco, just as the instructional restaurant concept was introduced.

Bricco is a collaboration between the Olewine School of Culinary Arts at HACC and Harrisburg Hotel Corporation, managing general partner of The Hilton Harrisburg. It serves as an instructional restaurant allowing HACC culinary students to learn all aspects of the restaurant business alongside some of the brightest stars in the industry today.

"I never thought that as a community college student I would be able to be exposed to a real-life restaurant while I was still in school," said Rafila, who also had to learn and use English, which was not his native language.

Working at Bricco as a management trainee "put me to the top of the list during the interview process [at Le Parker Meridien]. Of course my previous jobs were a good background as well, but Bricco is what set me apart," said Rafila. "At Bricco I was already performing tasks that were part of the position I was applying for in New York."

In February 2007, Rafila was hired as supervisor for Le Parker Meridien's restaurant, Norma's, named "best breakfast in New York" by publications including the Zagat Survey and New York magazine. After a three-month probation period, he was promoted to assistant manager of Norma's. He currently also manages another quirky food outlet in the hotel, "the burger joint," also frequently the subject of New York food writers.

Students in HACC's Olewine School of Culinary Arts and hotel, restaurant and institutional management programs learn many of the skills necessary in their chosen field through required classes held on the Harrisburg Campus. However, much of the applied learning happens when students practice those skills at Bricco, where they spend roughly 12 hours per week working directly with professional chefs, sous chefs, staff and front-of-the-house managers, all in the service of a discriminating public.

While at Bricco, students are assigned to stations in garde manager, pantry, roast, grill, saute, butcher, bakery and front-of-the-house stations, where the skills learned in classroom instruction are refined through hands-on training in an upscale restaurant environment.

"It is a joy to watch the learning process in the kitchen at Bricco, where students find their way in this busy restaurant environment," said Linda Lefevre, HACC associate dean, business, hospitality, engineering and technology.

"Chefs, staff and fellow students become mentors to students new at a knife-cut, process or technique. Students learn to appreciate fine food and its service, and to help one another. They gain an appreciation for quality and the importance of good ingredients," said Lefevre.

Chef Michael A. Finch, CED, AST, HACC culinary arts instructor, says he measures his success by the achievement of his students and the support of his colleagues.

"When one normally hears the words 'community college' they often think 'local,' but as this story clearly illustrates HACC's communities are global," said Finch. "Romeo's story serves as a testament to HACC's commitment and mission to foster education and provide our students with the tools to develop their own unique potential.

"With the creation of Bricco and HACC's partnerships with Hilton Hotel Corporation and Harristown Development Corporation a unique vision was created and has placed our Hospitality and Tourism programs in the forefront," said Finch.

"Our students now have the opportunity to work directly with some of the industry's best professionals in a real 'hands on' environment. This experience prepares our students to become leaders in the workforce upon graduation of the program.

"As the first graduate, Romeo paves the way for many to follow and serves as an ambassador for the outstanding reputation we are building for the Hospitality and Tourism programs here at HACC," said Finch.

Information about HACC's hospitality programs may be found using the Website link below.

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