Up North Blog

Cooking Up Friendships

Holland_ISD

2020 Holland Career Tech Center interns (l to r): Anna Kloosterman, Josh Walters, Grace Kloosterman, Program Director Jill Landman, Haley Brannan, Alex Braun, and Jonathan Desantiago. All are from Ottawa County.

Cherry Republic has been cultivating a culinary program with the Holland Careerline Technical Center for the last three years to create a pipeline of new and upcoming food experts to work at the Cherry Public House each summer. But Program Manager Jill Landman’s ties with Cherry Republic Founder Bob Sutherland go back much longer.

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“Bob and I became friends while attending Northwestern Michigan College way back in 1982 before either of us knew we would be involved in the food world as we know it in 2020,” Landman shares. “After our years of collective study here and there and multiple career changes, Bob found his footing with Cherry Republic and me with a catering company which lasted 25+ years in Grand Haven. Before selling that business to a long time employee I was recruited to try teaching Culinary Arts at Careerline Tech Center in Holland.”

Landman describes teaching Culinary Arts to high school juniors and seniors over the last 11 years as a wonderful experience, and she is always looking for ways to engage the students and provide real life scenarios for them to see possibilities for themselves.

Seven years ago Landman asked Bob to visit the Holland Careerline Technical Center to meet her students and tell his story, as well as the story of Cherry Republic and how one product and a great idea paved the path to what his business has become. At the end of Bob’s presentation, Landman was thrilled when two students asked how they could go to Glen Arbor to work with Bob and his team.

“Those two students provided an ah-ha moment for me to partner with Cherry Republic for the future,” she says. “The beautiful Leelanau peninsula certainly was a draw, but when queried after they spent the summer at Cherry Republic the resounding sentiment from both former students was the welcome they felt, the employee focused company culture, the kindness of fellow workers and level of respect they had been given (this was a first job for both). The experience at Cherry Republic easily eclipsed how much they enjoyed the natural environment. They were thrilled to be part of CR.”

She says that the skills the students took from school provided a platform for Chef Chris Henry to build on “and he did so in a really nurturing way.”

“This partnership has grown because I am solidly behind the environment and positivity that Cherry Republic provides for these young adults. I feel really comfortable talking with students and parents about the opportunity for them to work with Bob and his team, which means that often times these students are leaving home/living away for the very first time. A very big step for them.”

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Chef Chris Henry echoes Landman’s praise for the partnership. “In a time when many business could not find summer staff, our relationship with chef Jill and her culinary students fills a large summer staffing void to keep our kitchen open in the summer season,” he says. “I am so grateful that this program grows more every year.”

In addition to the real life experience they are gaining in the kitchen, the students are also benefiting from Cherry Republic’s College Match Program, according to Cherry Republic Talent Manager Kelli Stepka.

Bob continues to make an annual visit to the school, which usually revolves around a chili cook off that he sponsors, Landman says. “We try to coordinate this with Cherry Month, and of course each chili must have a Cherry Republic ingredient in it. It is a very fun way to start having conversations with current students about the possibility of going to Glen Arbor to spend the summer with Bob and all the other Public House and retail employees that make this such a wonderful, meaningful launch to their professional lives.”

She shares that the 2020 group of students has remained incredibly upbeat — even in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

“Masks and all, they love the experience they are having.”

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