Last Friday I had the opportunity to sit down with Sonja Lother, the public relations and special events manager for Education Corporation of America. Education Corporation of America is the parent company of Virginia College and Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College. Education Corporation of America has developed a truly unique student learning experience, an experience which gives students the real world work experience all while going through the educational process. Education Corporation of America has developed a model consisting of five real restaurants across the country where students learn their craft in a hands-on approach. The Kitchen on San Marco is one of these five restaurants and just celebrated it’s one year anniversary on April 2nd, 2016.
As you enter the restaurant you are greeted by a hostess stand, see modern yet simplistic furniture, a sleek rectangular bar serving some of Jacksonville’s best craft beer, colorful booths, and stylish recessed lighting. II asked Sonja what the inspiration of the interior design was and she told me that they had the internal design team from ECA come in and do the design work and that they wanted to model it after a vision of what a local upscale environment in a vibrant gastropub setting should be like.
I also found out that Chef Ryan Randolph is the executive chef who drives the creativity and development of the restaurant’s menu. Sonja told me that the most popular menu item is typically the “Whole Fish” which is a snapper, the menu changes on a seasonal basis, and that they use local farmers such as Veggie Confetti Farms, Bacon’s Select Produce, French Pantry, and Blue Sky Farms for the majority of their ingredients. While the restaurant doesn’t offer catering or delivery they have a very steady flow of to go orders on a daily basis. They also feature twenty beers on tap at any given time and rotate 1/3 of them out on a regular basis.
The restaurant stays engaged in the community hosting several events within it’s walls and with other local events such as Wine Down Parks, Gastro Fest, San Marco Nights, and the Food and Wine festival. Patrons are also welcome to bring their pets to the patio dining area. In Jacksonville the Kitchen on San Marco has been a supporter of the Ronald McDonald House which aims to keep families with sick children close to each other and provide the care and resources they need to get better. In other cities across the United States, the ECA’s restaurants have supported the Humane Society and March of Dimes which focuses on researching the problems that threaten children and finding ways to prevent them in cases of premature delivery.
Good food, great beer, and helping future culinary stars realize their dreams is what the ECA aims to accomplish with this unique approach to the student learning experience. The ECA has arrangements with several of the great restaurants in Orlando’s busy tourist scene, placing students in establishments at Epcot, Disney, and various hotels throughout Orlando.
The Kitchen on San Marco gladly offers a 20% discount to the men and women in uniform; military and first responders. For more info on the Kitchen on San Marco check them out online at; www.kitchenonsanmarco.com.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, April 2016.