Chef and owner of Wildwood Barbeque in Hadley, MA, 48 year old Glenn Brunetti, '08 shares with us his educational journey and outstanding success in the culinary and restaurant business. His concentration: Business Management and Culinary Studies. His advisor: Ingrid Bracey.
Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?
I never did that well in high school. I wasn't focused. I either didn't feel challenged or I lacked the discipline to get good grades. After high school, I took a couple of community college classes; this only confirmed that I wasn't ready for a traditional college experience. I had worked in restaurants in high school and really loved the culinary field, so after a year or so of fumbling around, I decided to apply to cooking school in New York City. I felt at home at cooking school. It was a very entrepreneurial program designed to train students to operate small restaurants. After graduation I worked a few jobs and was able to bootstrap into owning my first restaurant at the age of 23. Despite this early success, I always regretted not getting my bachelor's degree. A few years later, living in Portland Maine, I enrolled in my first continuing ed course: introductory writing. I put a lot of effort into all my assignments and got an A. My desire to learn and my confidence increased, so I continued to take night classes, one at a time. Unlike high school, this time I found I enjoyed the classroom experience, got a lot out of it, and did well.
Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?
Eventually I realized that I'd have to kick my studies up a notch if I ever wanted to graduate. By this time, I was living in Amherst and raising my daughter as a single dad. I heard about UWW and it seemed like a perfect fit for a non-traditional student with lots of life experience. I could design my own degree concentration (a culinary studies/business management hybrid), take classes in the evenings and online, and get credit for my life experiences. I finished college about the time my daughter graduated high school. I think it set a great example for her watching me work hard juggling work and school while being very dedicated to both.
What was the best part about being a UWW student for you?
I appreciated the flexibility and the caring, supportive staff. I had a great adviser and really enjoyed the process of writing my portfolio. It was good to meet my classmates -- many of them with stories similar to my own. Earlier in life, I believed I was somebody who couldn't be a good student (high school). The UWW program helped me change my self-image and learn that I could succeed, not only in the working world but also in my studies.
What was your favorite class at UMass Amherst?
I liked economics classes best. I like that many explanations for why society works the way it does can be broken down to economic forces. There have since been a several books and a movie on "Freakanomics," which basically talks about this concept in a really fun and informative way. Also, I am industrious by nature, organizing systems to streamline and grow business comes naturally to me, taking classes that focused on the fundamentals, theory and history of something I had already been practicing really gave me a deep understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.
What was the best part of writing your portfolio?
The best part of writing a portfolio is realizing what you have already accomplished. Chances are it is more than you realized before starting the portfolio. It’s also very cathartic and helped me better understand where I wanted to go by laying out where I had already been thus far. Strengthening my writing helped too. No matter where you go or what you do better communication skills- especially written communication- will serve you well.
Did you take your courses online, in person, or both?
Yes, all of the above. Every way I could squeeze/ juggle classes into my life, I did.
How did you balance work, school, and other responsibilities?
I'm not going to lie to you: it was not easy. But when you make up your mind that something is important, you find the time. In my case, trying to raise my daughter, spending much of my free time completing homework presented as good parenting. It became leading by example as we were both in the same boat spending much of our nights and weekends doing homework. My daughter ended up a really good student and went on to finish her undergraduate studies in just three years.
What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?
I think that sometimes non-traditional students get more out of the college experience because they have to really commit and make it a priority with everything else going on in their lives. They also come to it out of a desire to better themselves, not just as the next step on a predetermined path. Graduating from college helps you in life, because some doors open to you with a diploma and also because the journey changes you while building your confidence. Nothing breeds success like success.
How did you get started in the restaurant business? Can you tell us about your newest restaurant?
As stated above, I worked in restaurants during high school and fell in love with cooking and baking with its combination of technique, chemistry and artistry there. My first restaurant was a bakery/cafe in Pittsfield,
MA called Chelsea's Cafe. It served baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches all creatively prepared. We had a devoted following (to this day, people remember it and tell me how much they loved it). That experience led me to open a second restaurant a few years later in Portland Maine's Old Port. The second restaurant capitalized on much of the inspiration of the first, but was more of a lunch and dinner bistro, taking the cuisine to a higher level. Portland was (and is) a real food town and it was a lot of fun being part of the restaurant scene there. Again, this restaurant was well-received, with lines out the door at lunch time. Despite the restaurant's success, I eventually grew weary of the long hours and the demands it placed upon my family. My daughter had pretty much grown up in my two restaurants, and it was time to take a break to focus on being a better parent. This also afforded me a chance to start taking the night classes that led me to UWW.
Since owning my last restaurant, I developed a passion for barbecue. I eventually decided I wanted to open a barbecue restaurant in the valley: a casual and welcoming place that used quality ingredients and made everything from scratch. I wanted to include great gluten-free options and plenty of interesting vegetarian choices (two group that are typically relegated to the sidelines in a barbecue joint). Given my love of craft beer, an interesting beer and wine selection was important to me. And, because of my roots as a pastry chef, delicious house-baked desserts were always a must! We opened Wildwood Barbeque on Route 9 in Hadley in late July, and it's been doing great so far.
What are your plans for the future - professionally and personally?
Right now, my main goal is to go to work each day and run that restaurant as well as I can while continuing to innovate and improve. The first year of a new restaurant is a time-consuming challenge. I am working every day on organizing and running it in a way that gives me more work-life balance. From there, I'll be able to see
what's next; a second location, a second business concept expanding on what we have already created on RT 9. Hopefully all future opportunities will present organically.
Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you.
A few years back, I was featured in UMass Magazine for being one of the chefs invited to the White House for the launch of Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools program. Before opening Wildwood Barbeque, I was Northeast Regional Executive Chef for the largest school food service company in the country (a job I couldn't have gotten without my UWW degree). The territory I was in charge of included over 500 schools. I was responsible for maintaining standards and training staff, but the part I was most proud of was working to form partnerships between local farmers, food processors, and school districts to serve more fresh local produce in school lunch programs. It was satisfying to help kids develop an appreciation for local farmers and an awareness of where their food comes from. At Wildwood, I am committed to using local products and supporting local suppliers as much as possible!
Please add anything else you want people to know about you, your family, and your story.
These days you can almost always find me at Wildwood where I spend a lot of time talking to customers, getting feedback and sharing my love of good food and barbecue. We're open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. We do pick-up or drop off catering for meetings and parties and (when the weather finally warms up) we have a nice outdoor picnic area and hope to add a patio this year to expand our dining area. Check out our website (www.wildwoodque.com) and “like” our Facebook page to be kept in the loop (www.facebook.com/WildwoodBarbeque) or just come by sometime to say hello.
Or, read more about Wildwood Barbeque at http://www.gazettenet.com/home/8053142-95/wildwood-barbeque-brings-flavo...