Deciding that it was time “to give back to the community by contributing to Santa Barbara City College’s School of Culinary Arts,” longtime restaurateur Mitchell Sjerven recently created two $2,500 scholarships with the opportunity for paid internships to students in the renowned program. The inaugural recipients are Travis Brock, who received the Wine Cask American Riviera Scholarship, and Deya Jacobs, who received the bouchon American Riviera Scholarship. Sjerven answered some questions via email.
Why did you create this scholarship?
I had often thought of giving back to the school, but it wasn’t until I started teaching that I thought, “Now is the time.” I attempted to simply lecture without compensation, but as that is against school employment rules, I decided scholarships were the way to go. I also hope that a more visible donation might encourage other restaurants to do the same as a great many of us draw from this talent pool.
What’s it like teaching at SBCC?
My students realize I not only do “Restaurant Ownership” but also am still doing it, so I bring current, relevant experiences to class. We explore various situations that illustrate real points of interest, such as landlord negotiations, restaurants that are thriving, those that are failing. The coursework is centered on the process of opening and operating a restaurant. We start with how to flesh out a concept, find a site, diagram a kitchen and dining room, write a bank-worthy business plan, craft a marketing plan, hire staff. For many, this is their first introduction to the fact that the business of a restaurant is business, too, not just serving up great food.
Working in higher ed is sort of in your blood, no?
My father worked his entire life at a city college and my mother taught music, so the idea that education is an integral part of life was all around me, and I love that it is my turn today. My dad often says the most rewarding part of his 30 years as a student counselor was meeting a new crop of fresh-faced students every year — he felt it kept him young, too.