Gourmet etiquette and happy wallets; Oak Cafe reopens


The kitchen and back of the house of the Oak Cafe restaurant on opening day on Sept. 19, 2018. The Oak Cafe restaurant is located inside the culinary arts building at American River College and consists of dozens of students enrolled in the Dining Room and Management class and culinary arts classes who will have real-world experience running a restaurant (Photo by Itzin Alpizar)

Itzin Alpizar

With roasted salmon in rose butter and oven roasted peaches with honey lavender ice cream and almond crumbles, the American River College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program opened the doors of its four-star restaurant and famous bakery, the Oak Cafe, on Sept. 19 to offer a full package experience to students, faculty and Sacramento residents during this fall semester.

The Oak Cafe restaurant, located by the court of parking lot D in the culinary arts building, is run by students enrolled in the Dining Room and Management class and culinary arts classes, giving them real-world experience running a restaurant, according to the Oak Cafe page on the ARC website.

In the front of the house, on opening day, the tables were set, the atmosphere of the lobby, waiting area, dining and bar areas was calm and sophisticated.

Student hostesses, the bartender and servers were prepared and confident after weeks of preparation for the opening day.

Ike Khetani, culinary program major, said that his manager helped him with his first day nerves.

“My manager is excellent. This is my first day and I was so shaking and now all my shakiness is gone,” Khetani said. “Now I can become pro.”

Khetani said that after 29 years of being a certified public accountant (CPA), he can now make his dream of becoming a chef a reality.

“I’m so excited … for the last 29 years I have been a CPA,” Khetani said. “Now I am retired, and I am becoming a chef and everything. … My kids are all grown up … so here I go.”

Inside the kitchen, the atmosphere was very different than the front of the house.

Khetani’s manager, assistant instructor J. Kropp, walked around the kitchen and dining room in rounds answering questions from the Oak Cafe crew, making sure everything was “perfect” by four star restaurant standards. A few eager students decorated a melon and jambon serrano entree with rose peppercorn, mint and olive oil, while other students oversaw the pizza margherita or the chocolate olive oil cake in the preparation areas.

All nine students worked opening day in one of the biggest kitchens in which they can learn, according to Kropp. The kitchen room is almost the same size as the dining room, with specialized equipment, three big tables for preparation, two stoves, a grill area and a pizza oven.

“It’s a huge kitchen. Top of the line kitchen,” Kropp said. “This is the kind of kitchen you will find in a hotel or cruise ship. Those are the kind of places would have these kinds of equipment.”

The whole restaurant was relocated and upgraded from a smaller location by the Kaneko Gallery to the new culinary arts building in February 2015. The old restaurant used to have a kitchen that was the size of the current dishwasher area, according to Kropp.

“We used to have one stove, one small grill area, one small prep seat,” Kropp said. “We have the pizza oven now, we didn’t have the pizza oven before.”

Another addition to the restaurant is the bar area, which consists of a separate room from the dining area, with four sitting sets and a bar for non-alcoholic beverages. The bar was added during the construction of the new restaurant, and was funded by several donors.

“We had people who donated money when we were building …” Kropp said. “[They] gave us funds to create the bar atmosphere, so that our students could understand the role that a bar plays in a fine dining restaurant.”

The bartender on the opening day was Phillip Bailey, hospitality management major, who said he was excited and having fun with the experience.

“This is all new. I am excited, but you know sometimes [it] can make you a little bit nervous you know but it’s fun … I am having a great time,” Bailey said. “This is my first time [at the bar], so I am getting used to the computer system and the whole swing of things.”

According to Kropp, the bar offers italian sodas made by the students.

“We do lemonade, ice tea and we have our sodas on top,” Kropp said. “This week they used fresh pressed cider, fresh cranberries, fresh strawberries and fresh limes to create the sodas.”

Students rotate different roles in the Oak Café to help them get exposed to every position as much as possible before graduating, such as being a host, server or bartender.

“This is more than just ‘I like watching Food Network [channel] on TV,” Bailey said while preparing a strawberry lime italian soda. “If I eventually want to run a restaurant, I need to understand the numbers.”

According to Bailey, the crew of the restaurant had been meeting together regularly for the last month to rehearse proper etiquette and posture to go with the goal of the program; providing high quality service.

“[It is about] making it inviting for the customer and letting them know we are here for them to provide to them a great experience and outstanding food,” Bailey said.

The menu of the restaurant varies every week of the semester and is available on the Oak Cafe page, which list options for the following weeks such as a salmon burger and pizza with fennel sausage or eggplant.

The Oak Cafe bakery is located in the same building as the Oak Cafe dining room and opened at eight in the morning for a big crowd of hungry students and faculty looking for a quick pastry with coffee on the go.

Oreo Brownies and pastries offered at the Oak Cafe Bakery for a budget friendly breakfast on opening day, Sept. 19, 2018. The Oak Café Bakery is located inside the culinary arts building and offers a variety of pastries, desserts and lunch choices that varies everyday. The bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (Photo by Itzin Alpizar)

Randy Moore, an instructional aid and bakery production manager for the Oak Cafe, said that the bakery is very popular in the community.

“We have people who come from the neighborhood, we have the firefighters that drive over for lunch,” Moore said.”We have a lot of staff coming in, we have a lot of students coming.”

The bakery opens at 8 a.m. but the students from the bakery production class and the advanced baking class start earlier to prepare for the day, according to Moore.

“The students get in here about 5:30 [a.m.] or 6 [a.m.] to start producing,” Moore said. “Everything is curriculum-driven, so whatever the students are working on, that would appear out for sale.”

The Oak Cafe bakery offers affordable pastries and lunch choices that vary every day with coffee and tea choices.

“We try to keep our prices low so the students can afford to eat here and our [bakery] students can offer more products,” Moore said. “The more people that buy them, the more available they will be.”

The bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and doesn’t need reservations.

The Oak Cafe offers lunch from Wednesday to Friday with seating starting at 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. until the end of the fall semester, call for reservations.

Check the Oak Cafe menu for the following weeks