There's an inside reference in the logo of The Catch, a Tyler restaurant opening soon. It says "established in 1985," because that's when owner Scott Nordon first realized he wanted to someday have a coastal seafood restaurant.

But The Catch is something bigger, and also goes back to what Nordon, a classically trained chef and experienced restaurant chain executive, wanted a long time ago.

"When I was in high school, I wanted a pathway, I wanted an avenue to learn about the real business," said Nordon, who has 30 years in the industry.

And that's why The Catch isn't just a restaurant; it's also a part of the Whitehouse High School culinary arts program. When it opens later this month, aspiring chefs, servers and hospitality executives will play a part.

During the lunch rush, students will help the full-time staff prepare and serve food. Meanwhile, back in Whitehouse culinary instructor Chef Deidra Stewart's classroom, students will help formulate the menu.

In fact, the daily specials will all be dishes designed by Whitehouse high school students.

"This is an opportunity for them to develop menu products and to see the restaurant business from all sides," Nordon said. "They'll get an understanding of food costs, of labor costs, how to read a profit-loss statement. And of course we'll donate a portion of our profits to Whitehouse ISD."

He said he's glad to be working with such a great high school program.

"What Chef Stewart is doing with these kids is pretty amazing," Nordon said. "When I was a culinary student in high school, I wish there had been something like this for me."



Nordon has just stepped down from 13 years with the Posado's restaurant chain, where he served as chief operating officer, with more than 1,500 employees. It's time to give something back, he said, so he began looking for ways to serve delicious food and do some good at the same time.

That's when he met Stewart.

"Chef Stewart and I met about six months ago," he said. "She has a passion for the culinary arts and for passing them along."

When the site that was until recently Rowdy Taco came available, Nordon knew it was a good location.

"The Catch is a coastal seafood restaurant," he said. "It will have regional influences, such as etouffee and gumbo, but also some seasonal offerings. There will be some fried catfish and fried shrimp, but we also want to include some menu items that are more health-conscious."

The style will be fast-casual, with an eye toward serving all of those health care workers and support staff in the nearby hospital district quickly and efficiently.

"About 60 to 65 percent of our business will come at lunch, and lunch is all about speed and convenience," he said.



For Stewart, it's a chance to teach her students beyond the classroom.

"It's huge for a school to be able to partner with a restaurant such as this, especially from the very beginning," she said. "My students will be able to incorporate these experiences into their education, and it will benefit their careers. Usually, when students get field experience, they're really just washing dishes, or doing some minor prep work. But here, they'll be involved from the start. They'll be involved with everything from how much a dish costs to how it should be priced and presented."

The Whitehouse program already produces prospective restaurant workers who are highly qualified, she added. The program uses National Restaurant Association curriculum, which is more focused on real-world applications.

"I want to provide them with opportunities they can use in the real world," she said. "I want to give them so much more than just a cooking program. I want to teach values. For example, they wear integrity on their sleeve - literally. It's sewn onto the sleeve of their jackets. That's because after they go off and get their training or education, they're going to come back here as mothers and fathers and workers and business owners."

Adriana Moon, communications director for the Whitehouse school district, emphasized the value of real-world experience for high school students.

"Deidre goes above and beyond to help her students like this," she said. "She helps them apply for the scholarships and colleges. Whitehouse is blessed to have her and her dedication."



For their part, the Whitehouse culinary students are enthusiastic about the opportunities The Catch is presenting.

"I'm excited about getting the experience," said senior Tucker Kennedy, 18. "And we're going to be able to develop our own ideas, and have some influence over the menu."

He said he wants to create menu items that patients who have had weight loss surgery can enjoy.

"I have family members who have had the (bariatric) surgeries, and I see how hard it is when they go to a restaurant," he said. "They have to be very selective and careful about what they order and how much they eat. I'd like to have menu items they can come in and order and not feel like they're compromising."

That might mean a salmon dish with a light sauce, he said.

Junior Kayla Edge, 17, is more focused on the front of the house - the hostess station that directs the flow of customers and servers.

"I'm excited about the hands-on part, getting to work with people who have been doing this for much longer," she said. "I'm all about Southern hospitality, and I want to help make sure that guest service is good."



Bob Westbrook, a former Texas Restaurant Association president and Tyler restaurateur, has been involved in this project as an adviser from the beginning.

"This is a first-of-its-kind partnership that will actually utilize the culinary kids learn actual day-to-day business of running a restaurant," he said. "It's a very, very exciting thing for our industry. It's like entrepreneurship training on steroids. The experiences they'll gain are just tremendous."

Westbrook said The Catch seems to have found a real niche to fill.

"This is a healthful approach to dining out," he said. "It's not just sandwiches and soups. The menu was chosen to be healthier. It will appeal to those seeking a better eating lifestyle. So on top of being a great thing for students, it promises to be a great dining experience."

He said The Catch will have the Tyler restaurant industry's full support.

"The restaurant association, the chefs association, the local businesses - we're going to do everything we can to ensure it's successful," he said. "We'd like to see it become a new franchise - and not just a new franchise of a restaurant, but of a concept. We'd like to see more partnerships like this."

TWITTER: @tmt_roy


IF YOU GO: The Catch

Address: 1714 S. Beckham Ave. (at Fifth Street, formerly Rowdy Taco)

Phone: 903- 596-8226

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

Note: Students will be on hand from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays.




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