- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — About a dozen culinary arts students dressed in starched-white jackets and chef’s toques peered out a street-level window at business-district workers, who in turn ogled the delectable desserts lined up on stainless steel tables.

“Now I know how the gorillas at the zoo feel,” one student quipped, drawing laughs from the other students.

It’s a scene that is becoming commonplace in downtown Charlotte, now that the kitchen classrooms of the famed Johnson & Wales University culinary school are open for business. This is the school’s newest campus, and it’s bringing student life into the heart of this buttoned-down banking center.

The city is giving the cooking school equal billing with the new National Basketball Association franchise, the Bobcats, at a downtown pep rally this week.

While the Bobcats hope some of their young players develop into NBA all stars, Johnson & Wales is grooming young men and women who hope to populate the top levels of the culinary world, from kitchens to management suites.

“I’m going to open my own high-end restaurant and travel the world,” said Austin Klevickis, a first-year student from Snellville, Ga. “And I plan to eat very well.”

Enthusiasm for the school’s arrival in Charlotte has exceeded expectations.

First-year enrollment was set at 885 students when Johnson & Wales announced two years ago that it was coming here. Admissions officers ended up enrolling 1,210 freshmen — and could have had five times that many.

“We had more than 6,000 applications when we had to cut it off,” said Jim Palermo, a former Bank of America Corp. executive who is “executive in residence” at the school. “We feel bad that we couldn’t take more, but this is a brand-new operation.”

The first class of students has been drawn from 46 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By 2007, the campus expects to be home to as many as 5,000 students.

Based in Providence, R.I., Johnson & Wales is a four-year university that offers bachelor’s degrees in culinary arts, business management and hospitality, including hotel, restaurant and event management.

The university also has satellite campuses in Denver and Miami. Campuses in Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk were closed to make way for the Charlotte campus, which is located in the trendy Gateway Village development that was spearheaded by Bank of America.

The school’s arrival also is accelerating the transformation of a section of downtown Charlotte that once was home to the bus station, the federal courthouse and acres of parking lots.

Of course, all the high-end food could mean a market for some new health clubs, too.

“It’s an occupational hazard,” quipped Art Gallagher, president of the Charlotte campus.

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