Brilliant leaders are willing to think beyond the mundane to develop solutions for problems that everyone in their industry faces.
That is the case on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, where a number of community stakeholders, including The Sea Pines Resort, teamed up with the Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) to establish a culinary school that would help fill the pipeline of available talent in the region.
“Over the past few decades, Hilton Head Island [HHI] and [the town of] Bluffton [S.C.] have exploded with restaurants, but we haven’t had proper staffing,” says Matthew Roher, Director of Food & Beverage at Sea Pines, who was deeply involved at all stages of this initiative. “Without a local culinary school, a lot of potential culinarians attend schools in other places. Many don’t come back as they become part of the communities where they get their education or externship.”
Roher is passionate about creating a sustainable solution to the labor shortage he and his peers on HHI face. He was certain that a culinary school would not only help Sea Pines, but also help the area further establish itself as a culinary destination.
“When I came on board at TCL, there were notes we inherited about potentially opening a culinary school,” says Mary Lee Carns, Vice President for Advancement and Continuing Education with the Technical College of the Lowcountry. “At that stage, it was really only a concept. No one thought it would happen, but once we started to identify partners, the concept became a vision. And with a lot of hard work, that vision became a reality.”
The Culinary Institute of the South (CIS) opened in November of 2021. According to Carns, the school is tracking enrollment for the fall of 2022 to be around 150 students. The CIS offers hands-on, practical training in culinary arts, baking and pastry, and hospitality. Highly trained, credentialed instructors—many of whom work on HHI and in Bluffton—teach both theory and practical application in and out of the kitchen.
The $15.3 million project was funded with $11.2 million from Beaufort County, the Beaufort County School District and the Town of Bluffton, and $3.5 million from the state of South Carolina. Another $625,000 was raised from private sources and donors.
“What Sea Pines was able to do for us was priceless,” says Carns. “Not only did they host, and plan to continue to host, fundraising events, but they made everyone in the region pay attention to this idea.”
“Our goal was to help attract and retain needed talent,” says Steve Birdwell, President of Sea Pines. “Going forward we will encourage our culinarians to work with the school and the students in partnership both for their own continuing education and in the form of externships for students.”
Roher hopes to involve students not only in the kitchens and operations at Sea Pines, but to also leverage this partnership for the RBC Heritage Tournament, hosted annually on The Sea Pines Resort’s famed Harbour Town Golf Links.
“We can offer students an all-encompassing culinary experience that will help set the stage for their career,” says Roher. “Whether that’s with Sea Pines or elsewhere, by helping to establish The Culinary Institute of the South, we’re doing our part to increase the amount of talent in the industry.”