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.
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.
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.
We 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.
Before 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.
As 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.
And then there was dessert…
At 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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