The Hotel at Kirkwood Center: Full-Service Teaching Hotel Wows Guests

How many community colleges do you know of that run their own hotel? Not many, I’ll bet, especially a full-service hotel. There are only six in the entire United States, and I had the privilege of staying in one last month during a press trip to Cedar Rapids hosted by Iowa Tourism. The Hotel at Kirkwood Center is part of Kirkwood Community College’s hospitality arts program, which also includes The Class Act restaurant.

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center

My first big wow came when I saw my room. A king bed, a comfy chaise lounge perfect for relaxing with my laptop propped up on my knees, and a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the expansive green lawn that surrounds the hotel.

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center (1 of 25)After settling in I went back down to the lobby where I met my fellow travelers over a glass of wine. The hotel offers guests complimentary wine Monday through Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. I chose Kirkwood wine, a semi-sweet white wine made in the school’s winery. That’s right. Kirkwood Community College also has its own winery.

Hotel Lobbyfireplace

Touring the Kirkwood Community College hospitality management building

Kirkwood Community College is spread over 27 buildings on 885 acres. However, the extent of our tour was the hospitality arts building, which is attached to the hotel and the restaurant.

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Most classrooms were empty during our pre-dinner tour, but we found these fun board game cakes that students had made displayed in a window of a pastry classroom.

cakesWe stumbled upon one class that was in session, and they welcomed us in. The students, led by Chef Instructor Anthony Green, were making roses from a combination of isomalt sugar (a beet sugar that holds up well in humidity), water and tartonic acid. Students were heating the mixture under heat lamps and forming the roses by hand. Chef Anthony displayed one of the finished products.

Pastry Classsugar roseA wine pairing class had just ended in the auditorium. As in many of the classrooms, students can watch instructor demonstrations over large monitors.

auditoriumBefore sitting down to dinner in The Class Act, Restaurant Supervisor Jared Alberts explained more about the restaurant and the Kirkwood program. Students are required to put in clinical hours in the hotel or restaurant. However, both the hotel and restaurant are staffed with professionals, as well. Students come away with a hotel management, restaurant management or culinary arts associate’s degree. Since so many courses overlap, many students add another year for a second degree. The bakery program is only one year. Afterward some transfer to another school (Kirkwood is the top transfer school for the University of Iowa), while others go directly into a hospitality position.

Dinner at The Class Act

Moving into the dining room, there were lots more “wows” at the table setting and appetizer spread that were awaiting us. Settings in The Class Act change three times a day, from casual to fine dining, to provide different experiences for diners as well as for the students.

The Class ActThe Hotel at Kirkwood Center (12 of 25)Butcher's Block appetizerHummus and veggiesAs we were enjoying our appetizers, Executive Chef Justin Billings filled us in on the class that he teaches. Besides rotating through preparing and serving different meals, students must design three dishes, one for each meal. They draw a picture of how they would plate the dish. Students write up a description of the plate, including what they would use for color and crunch. They must also take into consideration acidity versus sweetness, the amount of protein and the cost factor. If a student’s dish is outstanding, it may end up on the menu.

Executive Chef Justin BillingsI ordered a dish that was created by student Justin Parrish: seared duck breast, parsnip puree and arugula salad.

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center (16 of 25)We were all surprised when the meals came out that among about ten diners, almost everyone ordered something different, from a BLT to pasta with scallops to gnocchi. They were all hits.


And then there was dessert…

lemon meringue tartraspberry sorbetcheesecakeAt the end of each evening during my stay, I came back to my room to find the bed turned down and a little box of lemon sugar cookies, baked by the pastry students, on my pillow, a sweet ending to the day. The staff and students of The Hotel at Kirkwood Center really know how to wow their guests.


If you stay at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center is located at 7725 Kirkwood Boulevard SW in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor

Disclosure: My visit to Cedar Rapids was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office,. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means I will receive a small commission if you book a room using this link.


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6 thoughts on “The Hotel at Kirkwood Center: Full-Service Teaching Hotel Wows Guests

  • June 15, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Where are the other 5 Community College Hotel/restaurants located?

    • June 16, 2016 at 8:05 am

      Sally, according to the restaurant supervisor at Kirkwood, the other full-service teaching hotels are in Chicago, Washington State, Purdue, Michigan State and Cornell.

  • June 19, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Wow! This looks great. I never would have guessed (based on those mouthwatering photos) that these dishes were made by beginning culinary students. What a beautiful and unique hotel!

    • June 25, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      They often say teaching hospitals are the best to go to. Apparently the same theory applies to teaching hotels. 🙂

  • June 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    We are making a note to visit this one! While not at a community college, we stayed at the University of Virginia’s Inn at Darden, and had an awesome experience. There’s also the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at the University of Texas in Austin, the Statler at Cornell University, and several others. They are student run, but not all as part of a Hospitality program. We’ve had such great experiences that we actually seek them out now! Plus, we kind of like being on campus…all the fun with none of the classes. 🙂

    • June 25, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      This was my first experience with a student-run hotel and loved it. I, too, will be seeking them out in the future. Some of the others in my travel group commented that they wanted to go back to school because the program looked like fun.


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