Creating a Winning Recipe for Student & Community Success

Taren Kinebrew, founder and CEO of Sweet Petit Desserts, and Dater High School Senior Aissatou-Assya Camara prepare a batch of cupcakes for a busy Saturday morning.

Photo by Jon Keeling


“If those kids who are younger than me can cook, why can’t I?”

Inspired by reality-based TV cooking shows like Food Network’s “Chopped Junior,” Aissatou-Assya Camara, a Dater High School senior, recently embarked upon a journey into the creative world of food preparation and presentation – discovering a passion for baking along the way – thanks to the Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) Culinary Arts Career Tech Program and a host of community partners.

As an intern at Sweet Petit Desserts in Over-the-Rhine, Camara is excited about learning the integral ingredients necessary for rising to a successful career as a pastry chef and, perhaps, an entrepreneur.

“I feel like I am in my element,” she says.

In December, Camara was one of 15 Dater High School juniors and seniors to be the first to graduate from the Dan Lincoln Institute for Hospitality Leadership (IHL) internship program as part of a community-wide push to develop a more highly-skilled and diverse workforce for the region’s growing hospitality industry. It’s an industry that currently employs more than 80,000 people and generates more than $5 billion in visitor spending annually.

The IHL, led by the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau (Cincinnati USA CVB), launched in 2016. In October 2018, the IHL curriculum and program content were added to CPS’ Culinary Arts Career Tech Program. Students participated in IHL classes twice a week during their school day through the end of December, culminating in a special IHL graduation ceremony where they received certification and designation as Certified Tourism Ambassadors.

This collaborative effort – which also involves the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) – continues to move the industry forward while helping students tailor their education and on-the-job-training, and set professional goals to ensure they experience post-high school success.

“Hospitality is a key economic driver in our region,” says Jason Dunn, IHL founder and vice president of multicultural sales and community development at the Cincinnati USA CVB. “What we sought to do is increase the diversity in the hospitality industry by introducing students to the hospitality industry at a young age – particularly students of color who may not be aware of the variety of opportunities that exist.”

The Cincinnati USA CVB partnered with the Cincinnati Music Festival last year to host “Party With A Purpose” on Thursday night of the festival, with $7 of each ticket sold going to the IHL. During December’s IHL graduation ceremony, a check for $14,000 was presented to the IHL on behalf of the music festival.

The CRC, through its Youth2Work Program, hired the culinary arts students and, working with CPS and the Cincinnati USA CVB, then placed the students as interns with participating culinary/ hospitality businesses and organizations throughout the community. The student interns are considered city employees, paid by the city. The city’s Youth2Work program is funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

“Being able to help young people see and understand what it takes to be successful is just awesome,” says Greg Walker, Youth and Teen Services senior administrative assistant at CRC, who heads the Youth2Work Program. Walker has been teaching workforce development throughout the city for 12 years. He personally guides the Dater High School culinary arts students in honing their communication and networking skills, writing winning resumes and polishing other necessary workforce attributes.

“They’re also learning how to be a leader on the job, what it takes to be a great teammate, why it’s important to be to their jobs on time, and the importance of a firm handshake, which will help them meet and exceed future employers’ expectations,” Walker notes.


Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

“The IHL demonstrates the power and collaborative spirit of Cincinnati’s hospitality industry while helping make rewarding careers in that industry attainable for all, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or background,” Dunn says. “There is so much potential ahead for this program and these students.”

In addition to learning the integral fundamentals of food preparation through their regular Dater High School classroom work, students are learning, through the IHL, about the multi-faceted aspects of the hospitality industry, the basics of a visitor economy, post-secondary programs related to hospitality, potential career paths, soft skills and more.

Following their semester of IHL classes, select Dater High School students moved into the internship portion of the program, which began in January and runs through May. In addition to Sweet Petit Desserts, other local hospitality industry leaders working with students this year include Cincinnati Hilton Netherland Plaza and Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.


Expanding Hospitality Career Horizons

Dater High School’s three-year Culinary Arts Career Tech Program is designed for students in the 10th through 12th grades.

“The Culinary Arts Program is over four or five years old, and it was established to give students exposure to culinary arts only. We wanted to expand their horizons to let students know there are other opportunities at different levels in the hospitality sphere, so we looked for partners that included hotel management, sports team management and event planning,” explains Brittney Cousins, career manager for CPS. “The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau partnered with us in the past to give students career exposure opportunities, and we wanted to deepen that engagement.”

The collaborative programming now offered through the addition of the IHL classes and internship opportunities is definitely an illustration of career-based learning, Cousins notes. “Our hospitality industry partners take what our students learn in the classroom and bring it alive in the world of work. I think it’s an excellent addition to our program. We’re hoping to expand our program next school year so more students can participate.”

A Dater High School sophomore, Julie Martinez Lopez is making the most of her internship with Cincinnati Hilton Netherland Plaza, learning about everything from running the front desk to food and beverage and restaurant operations.

“I started off at the front desk and I was observing how my co-workers were checking in guests, just getting the hang of it,” Martinez Lopez recalls. “Then someone would ask me for help, and I got to personally interact with guests. I was so excited!”

What she has enjoyed the most, however, is her time spent learning about the hotel’s restaurant operations – particularly getting to make and bake pastries.

“I love baking; I like learning about food and making food, and I like smiling and helping people,” Martinez Lopez says. “And that’s what makes me think about going into hospitality as a career.”


A Chat With Chef Q

Of all his many years in the hospitality industry, CPS Culinary Arts instructor Trew Quackenbush, founder and former president of Tom & Chee, has never been happier professionally as he is these days, teaching Dater High School students everything from basic kitchen skills to food service fundamentals, baking and contemporary cuisine. The work readiness training students receive through the combined efforts of CPS and the IHL internships, he says, is priceless.

“Beyond culinary skills, they are learning life skills, communication skills, how to write a resume and sell themselves, networking – all valuable skills and confidence kids today need,” says Quackenbush, affectionately referred to as Chef Q. “When I teach, I teach students from the aspect that they’re the boss, so that they’re thinking about striving not for a job, but for a career. A career isn’t washing dishes or changing beds; a career is writing schedules and ordering the food.

“I tell them to dream big, that they may start at entry level, but they should be working toward being an owner or manager. I encourage them to be the best they can be, to have a goal in mind and always be thinking, ‘How can I achieve it?’”


Hospitality Tract, Next Generation

Taren Kinebrew, founder and CEO of Sweet Petit Desserts in Over-the-Rhine, is a third-generation baker with an IT background who never planned to be a business owner. And yet, here she is, a decade into running her own bakery, and excited to be doing her part in training a new generation of bakers and small business owners.

Most every Saturday since January finds Kinebrew working side by side with Camara, her pastry chef/hospitality-leader-in-training, teaching her the realities of baking for a living. She’s hoping she is molding her next pastry chef.

Throughout her internship, Camara has been busy assisting Kinebrew with baking, making icing, teaching baking classes, running the register and waiting on customers, among other business operation duties. While baking is second nature to Kinebrew – she followed in her grandmother’s footsteps – she maintains that being successful at it takes one-part training and one-part creative talent.

“Baking is not an easy job. But because it is what our family did, I never gave it a second thought,” Kinebrew notes. “If I can encourage just one other person to go for it, to inspire them, then I’ve done my part.”

As HR Director at Cincinnati Hilton Netherland Plaza, Nelson Broadus oversees the work schedule for Martinez Lopez. He makes sure her work schedule and school schedule are compatible, allowing her enough time to learn about the different areas in the hotel. She began her internship in the front desk area after spending a little time in Human Resources, then she moved to Food and Beverage. What really impressed Broadus? She volunteered to work on a couple of school snow days.

“She calls this her happy place. She loves it, and we love having her here. She’s a rock star. We love her enthusiasm. It’s just great!” Broadus says.

And he couldn’t be happier about the Cincinnati Hilton Netherland  Plaza being a partner in this collaborative school/business community effort. It’s a perfect fit for the CPS’ mission to see to it that every student is either enrolled in secondary education, enlisted in the U.S. military or employed following graduation, Broadus notes.

“It gives those students who wouldn’t enroll in higher education or enlist in the military an opportunity to learn about a field they can go into and make good career choices,” he says. “Programs such as this can open eyes and doors for those entering the job market right out of high school who are looking to not just make money but to pursue a career.”

With the hospitality industry in Cincinnati growing, the need for a well-educated, well-trained work force is definitely there, Broadus concludes.

“I am really excited about this program – it’s turning out to be something positive and a win-win for everyone involved.” 


Cincinnati Public Schools’ administrative offices are located at 2651 Burnet Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, visit