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Can NECI cook up a plan to beat financial worries? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Can NECI cook up a plan to beat financial worries?

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Finding a good Southern-style slab of barbecue ribs in the middle of March in Vermont isn't easy. But Friday, Vermonters will get a taste.

"We put a lot of care into the items we chose, so we think they're all special," said Chad Sprague, a student at the New England Culinary Institute.

NECI is taking on a new venture, a pop-up restaurant for one night only-- the Boneyard BBQ.

"It's just fascinating to us to see that our own students come up with an idea and challenge themselves. It is just so much satisfaction for us," said Jean-Louis Gerin, the chief operating officer at NECI.

Students enrolled in NECI's entrepreneurship and product development class came up with the idea.

"We've done everything from costing out recipes, costing out the food, as well as just driving around town sticking flyers everywhere," student Brian Mears said.

"Most of us want to open our own restaurants, so this is really good practice and training," Sprague said. "We've been doing it from the ground up."

NECI officials hope new concepts like this will reinforce the school's teaching method of smaller classes, but questions over NECI's financial stability loom large. The institute has gone from enrolling 400 students a year to about 200. But after selling off two properties, school officials say downsizing has had a positive effect.

"The right size for NECI and the size that our competitors are dreaming of is to stay where we are now, which is between seven and twelve students per chef instructor. I strongly believe that this is the magic formula," Gerin said.

"Hopefully people can recognize what we're doing here at the school, bringing out not only just chefs, but hopefully future entrepreneurs who can take the reins of future businesses and restaurants and open new places," said Jeff Andre, an instructor at NECI.

NECI hopes the Boneyard BBQ pop-up restaurant will not only give students a chance to showcase what they've been working on in the kitchen, but also give the community a chance to connect with students for one night over a dish of barbecue.

"We teach better when we have full restaurants because it's more challenging for our students. So having people from the public come and help us educate the students is very important," Gerin said.

The pop-up restaurant is booked for the night, but the waiting list is always an option. NECI hopes to host more nights like the one ahead as the school works to connect with the community and cater to the needs of future chefs.

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