NTO students open on-campus restaurant

Students in the culinary arts program at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa are learning how to run a restaurant by opening one of their own. The restaurant is available on Thursdays at NTO. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Senior practicum students in Christina Acosta’s culinary class at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa are getting real-life experience running a restaurant.

The restaurant is open on Thursdays and offers inside and takeout items.

The class has 27 students. They had a soft opening in mid-October and opened the last week of October 2023.

“We typically open on Thursdays. That gives us a week of prep and then Friday to debrief and clean up,” said Acosta, a culinary arts instructor.

Madosyn Campbell, who runs the front-of-house, said they offer four different specialty pizzas, deserts and espresso drinks. The pizzas include Strawberry Balsamic, chicken French bread, Cajun Hawaiian and Spicy Soppressata.

The students prepare all the ingredients and spread all the cheese.

At first, Acosta said, the Soppressata was the favorite and now it’s chicken French bread.

The senior students last year came up with the menu and they carried it over to this school year.

“The reason we picked a menu like pizzas is we wanted the customers to be able to customize their order. We want the students to have as close to real-world experience as possible, so somebody can look at the items on the menu and add or subtract from what is listed there so that when a customer walks through the door we don’t know what they’re going to order, just like a restaurant,” Acosta said.

Pizza and a drink is $15; the desserts are $3; and the coffees are $4. They have had about 30 customers, but they would like to have more.

Xylina Llanez and Acosta said the proceeds go to fund trips to competitions.

Llanez said ever since she was little she’s said she wants to be a chef. She enjoys making cookies and brownies the most.

Jose Sarabia said cooking started as a necessity for him as he realized his mom wasn’t always going to be around to cook for him.

He doesn’t have a favorite dish to make precisely, but he’s always liked to make pastries, although they can be tricky as you have to get the crust, filling and consistency right.

“Whenever I first started cooking, I burned my first two eggs. It’s kind of funny, but it became a passion. I really wanted to open my own restaurant because a lot of food in Texas is not very vibrant; very boring, burgers and chicken and that’s it. I want to bring something different to Odessa, Texas, in general. I want to expand my knowledge” whether it be Chinese, Italian, Asian and cuisine in general, Sarabia said.

Alexa Soto, who is part of the expert team that manages the back of the house, said she decided to join the culinary class because she would like to major in culinary arts in college. “Just growing up watching my mother cook” was what got Soto interested in the art.

She also doesn’t have a favorite cuisine to cook, but Italian is at the top.

To improve from the time they opened the restaurant the first time to the next time, Llanez said they communicated with each other and practiced strategy on making the pizzas and learning other aspects.

Nevaeh Eleby said they also created new sales tickets that were less confusing.

Acosta said they improved the tickets to include the pizza, desserts and drinks.

Acosta said Chef David Molinar’s second year advanced students do the dessert and specialty drinks.

“That helps the servers take orders better and helps the back of the house keep track of what has gone out, what hasn’t gone out,” Acosta said.

Student John-Matthew Fuentes said for pizza prep improvements, they pre-made three of each kind of pizza to help with the efficiency of running orders to the oven as quickly as possible.

“The process made it so much easier for us to keep us caught up and to make custom orders, if necessary,” Fuentes said.

Isabel Ortega talked about the chicken French bread pizza station. Chicken French bread pizza includes honey Dijon mustard-flavored chicken, loaded with cheese and bacon. They put it in the oven and put some honey Dijon drizzle on top — to add more flavor — when it comes out of the oven.

When they debrief, part of what they talk about is drawing more customers.

“This time we did 30 customers. Last time, I think we did like 10 or 12 customers. What we’ve noticed is with getting the kinks out of the system, we’re doing more production but it doesn’t feel like more work. (With) everybody doing their part, working as a team, 30 customers didn’t feel like more than 12 and the consensus is yes, we can handle more customers. We want more customers. We want for the revenue to be up,” Acosta said.

Anyone can come to or order from the restaurant. Hours are 11 a.m. to noon on Thursdays. Orders can be picked up at 11:30 a.m. and noon.

If they want to eat at the restaurant, they can come to New Tech.