Future culinary professionals learn skills in this historic downtown Coleman facility

Each weekday, Chef Andy Bacigalupo spends time training the next generation of chefs and culinary professionals at a facility with over 100 years of history. Officially, he retired two years ago. The draw of continuing to develop a program he helped launch several years ago in a new location featuring a huge commercial kitchen and restaurant space was enough to keep him going - for now.

Chef Andy Bacigalupo leads the Culinary Arts program in the Coleman Community Schools.
“I started the program seven years ago, at its old Windover (Windover High School) location,” says Bacigalupo. “They wanted a move, and Bullock Creek, Midland, and Coleman all pitched locations. Coleman ended up getting it, and this place is unbelievable. It’s a playground for a chef. I actually retired a couple of years ago, but then I got a phone call.”
The Culinary Arts program is held in what was Yesterday's Depot downtown.
Known locally as ‘The Depot,’ an 1870s-era train station-turned-restaurant had been vacant for nearly a decade before Coleman Community Schools advocated its use as the new home for the Midland County Educational Service Agency (ESA) Career-Technical Education Culinary Arts Program. They are now in their second year of operation at The Depot. 

Coleman Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormack was grateful to see the program land in Coleman. She says plans are in place to start catering and even open the restaurant for limited hours, providing students with a real-world training environment for front and back of house operations.

“It was sad to see this really nice building not being utilized,” says McCormack. “One of our board members brought up using the old depot restaurant, so we approached the owners and they have been fantastic to work with. It’s in the center of town and in front of the Rail Trail. To have this historical building up and running has been amazing.”

Dining room in Coleman's Culinary Arts facility
Grants were awarded to help cover immediate and longer-term costs, with plans to eventually purchase rather than lease the facility. Funding included $150,000 from the Gerstacker Foundation, $100,000 from the Midland Area Community Foundation, $50,000 from the Strosacker Foundation, and $10,000 from the Midland County Youth Action Council.

“Our goal is for every student to find what they love to do,” says McCormack. “It’s three-pronged: strong programming for college preparation, great arts programs, and career tech. I can see our culinary arts offering being the premier program in the state and even the nation.”
Chef Andy Bacigalupo
While the Midland County ESA and Coleman Community Schools search for a full-time culinary instructor, Chef Bacigalupo’s experience and enthusiasm are a great fit to get the program running at the new location. His long resume includes being hand picked to serve on the White House Let’s Move Task Force, helping to revamp nutrition options in public schools throughout America.

In addition to the increased focus on school nutrition, a renewed energy in culinary careers in general has led more students to consider the option. A recent slate of Hollywood depictions, such as the popular Hulu show “The Bear”, highlights the fast-paced but rewarding industry.
Ava Root stirring the pot.
Ava Root is one of those students. While still unsure if she will make it a career, the H.H. Dow High School senior added the culinary arts program to her schedule to gain more experience. This week, she is acting as head chef. Next week, she’ll switch to front of house operations.

“We just started this new program with Chef Andy,” says Root. “For one week we’ll train in the front of house, then another week in back of house, where we’ll choose a chef and sous chef. Right now I’m acting chef, so everyone comes to me for assignments for the day and I create the menu. It’s a lot of running around and making sure everyone’s on task, so it’s great leadership experience.”

The ability to fill a resume prior to applying for culinary schools or jobs is a big draw. Students can also earn certifications needed in the industry, including becoming ServSafe certified.
It's grill time in the Culinary Arts class.
High school students from throughout Midland County are transported by bus to and from The Depot, training in two-hour blocks in the morning or afternoon. The Culinary Arts path offers students graduation credits in visual arts and final year math. In just their second year of operation at the new facility, the number of students enrolled has more than doubled.

“We just moved it here last year and had a successful year, but we’re up to 40 kids now - we had 16 last year. So there’s a lot of excitement around the program and this facility,” says Bacigalupo.

Coleman and the surrounding community clearly supports the effort, as donations of produce and flowers from residents are common.
40 students are enrolled in the class this fall.
As for the results, Chef Bacigalupo knows of at least 60 students from his time as an instructor who now serve as chefs throughout the country. Several have also been featured on Food Network shows, helping to launch even more lucrative careers. “The kids that have graduated here, some have been extremely, extremely successful,” says Bacigalupo.

Former students are now running operations at Saganing Eagles Landing, Midland’s Holiday Inn, the Great Lakes Loons, and other large-scale operations throughout the state and country.

The program is open to high school students from Midland, Gladwin, and Clare Counties. Those interested are encouraged to contact their high school counselor or call Coleman High School at (989) 465-6171 for more information.

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Read more articles by Ben Tierney.

Ben Tierney is the Director of Communications and Family Engagement at Bay City Public Schools. He serves in the National Guard as an infantryman with Bravo Company 1-125 headquartered in Saginaw. Tierney is an avid photographer who enjoys covering events in the Great Lakes Bay Region and currently resides in Midland with his daughter.