Tomorrow's aspiring industry leaders strut their stuff at ProStart's national competition

The program's best went head to head for a weekend in Baltimore, with 96 teenaged teams vying for $200,000 in scholarships to continue their restaurant educations.
ProStart team from Delaware's Caesar Rodney High
The team from Delaware's Caesar Rodney High won the culinary competition. | Photo courtesy of the NRAEF

The newest restaurant idea to come out of Southern California is a cross between a sports bar and a breakfast place, a hybrid with a foot in two thriving market sectors. If First Watch and Buffalo Wild Wings were to wed, this might be their offspring.

But the most interesting aspect of the venture may be its source. The idea for Teddy’s was hatched and turned into a business plan by a group of teenagers from an Orange County school. 

The idea won the crew from Orange County School of the Arts first-place honors in the management portion of the 2024 National ProStart Invitational, a competition that brings together the cream of the ProStart program.

Now in its 27th year, ProStart is a program that provides high school students with a fast track into the foodservice business. Participants follow an alternate curriculum that combines classroom instruction with practical kitchen experience to prepare them for higher-level foodservice instruction or a job in a professional kitchen.

Currently about 165,000 students in nearly 1,850 schools are participating in ProStart, according to its national-level administrator, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, or NRAEF.

ProStart Invitational attendees cheer

The national competition drew 400 teenaged entrants, plus their parents and teachers. | Photo courtesy of the NRAEF

Every year, participating schools are invited to pit their ProStart teams against the squads of fellow institutions within their states. The teens go head-to-head in two types of competition.

In one, the management track, the youngsters are challenged to come up with the idea for a new restaurant concept, complete with a design, a marketing plan, a menu, a sense of how much staffing will be needed, and a budget. They then pitch their idea to a group of judges who are drawn from the business.

The other line of competition is more culinary focused. Those teams are required to come up with an idea for a three-course menu and then execute it from raw material to plated dish, using little more than butane burners. Another battery of judges assesses not only the finished product, but also such prep issues as sanitation.

The teams that finish first in either competition within their respective state are invited to vie as the best in the nation at what the program calls the Invitational. It was held this year at the end of April in Baltimore. Management and culinary teams from 48 states, a total of about 400 ProStart students, participated in the weekend event.

They were joined by parents, teachers, benefactors of the program and industry VIPs.

At stake was about $200,000 in scholarship money.

While the students from Orange County won the management competition, the squad from Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware, took first place in the culinary contest for the second consecutive year. Their winning meal this year consisted of hand-rolled port dumplings, pepper-crusted Steak Diane and a lemon meringue tart.

“It’s inspiring to watch these students put so much of their hearts and souls into this competition and to know that the grit that got them here will be what propels their careers,” said Michelle Korsmo, CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the NRAEF, in a statement.

NRAEF President Rob Gifford added, “This year’s national ProStart students are a window into the culinary excellence and creative restaurant concepts that will be part of our industry in the years to come. … These students will leave high school equipped with skills to build a future career in our industry – or wherever their futures take them.”

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