PLATTSBURGH — It’s no surprise that SUNY Plattsburgh hosts numerous academic programs, but the college is also home to something far less expected: a fine-dining establishment.
Located in Sibley Hall, Samuel D’s has been in existence for about a decade and is run by students in the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Program.
“I think it’s a little hidden gem in the community,” said Peter Ensel, interim chair of the department.
The participating students, all of whom are seniors, meet on Thursday evenings and open the facility up to the community.
“It’s a laboratory learning environment rather than a restaurant,” said John Parmelee, a lecturer in the management program.
Throughout the semester, students rotate their roles between the back and front of the restaurant and are responsible for everything from planning and costing out menu items to preparing the meals and serving guests.
“It’s a great practical learning experience, where they get to practice many different facets of the restaurant business,” Ensel said.
“One of the things that I think is a real positive attribute to our program is the fact that we have all state-of-the-art cooking equipment (and) technology in the dining room,” added Parmelee, who oversees front-of-the-house operations.
Samuel D’s generally hosts 12 dinners per semester, each featuring three different entree choices, all of which are served with a salad.
The meals range in price from about $10 to $15, which covers operation costs.
“We’re not making any money on this,” said chef and instructor Kim Emery, who oversees the back of the house.
While she sets two of each week’s menu items, the students come up with the third.
The students recently offered grilled chicken with a house-made salsa, a recipe crafted by Zuehailey Irizarry.
As that week’s acting kitchen manager, the SUNY Plattsburgh senior was responsible for keeping her team on task and ensuring everyone had what they needed.
“It’s a learning experience,” Irizarry said. “Of course, we’re going to get things wrong ... but (the goal is) just not to make a big mistake that we can’t come back from.”
Before participating in the class, students become certified in food-handling safety and learn the basics of cookery, including braising, sautéing and proper knife handling.
“We are not training chefs, by any means, but I’m just giving them an overview of how the kitchen should run, things they should look for and how to plate the dinners,” Emery said.
When assigned to the front of the house, students practice the arts of customer service and hospitality, with Parmelee on hand to provide constructive criticism.
FOCUS ON FOOD INDUSTRY
Though he’s had prior restaurant experience, SUNY Plattsburgh student Colin Steinauer enjoys the educational benefits of working in Samuel D’s lab setting.
“It’s nice to be able to get that immediate feedback,” said the senior, who hopes to gain employment at a resort after graduating.
“We also really emphasize the marketing and selling part of our industry and how important it is to maximize on every revenue opportunity we have,” Parmelee added.
However, he noted, Samuel D’s is not intended to compete with local restaurants.
“We agreed at the conception that we would not advertise in the newspaper or carry on media campaigns beyond the confines of the campus,” Parmelee said.
Still, Ensel noted, the establishment has become known to some in the community via word of mouth.
At least once a semester, Clinton County Treasurer Kimberly Davis tries to dine at Samuel D’s, which first opened while she was a student at the college.
“On my last visit, which was on April 10, I had beef gorgonzola pasta, which was fantastic, and chocolate lava cake for dessert, which is always so good,” she told the Press-Republican in an email.
In addition to the food, Davis enjoys the establishment’s atmosphere.
“Students are learning, so they aren’t as experienced as the waitstaff at, say, Irises or Anthony’s, but that is also what I enjoy,” she said.
“It is great to have an exchange with current students, finding out a little about them and how they are enjoying their Plattsburgh experience.
“The atmosphere is upscale, but not stuffy, and intimate, with friendly and familiar faces.”
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IF YOU GO
SUNY Plattsburgh's Samuel D's serves dinner from 5:30 to 7 p.m. most Thursdays while school is in session.
The last dinner of the spring 2014 semester will take place on Thursday, May 8.
Seating is limited, and reservations are required, as walk-ins are not accepted. Reservations can be made by calling 564-4260.
Though students are not allowed to accept gratuities, an 18 percent fee is applied to each guest check to support the college's Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management program.