The Scenic City is a destination bursting with tourism, and independently owned restaurants are constantly opening, but Chattanooga is not known for its hospitality or culinary arts training.
That is something Tim Hennen, who has 42 years of restaurant experience, is working to change. He and more than 1,000 other community members have come together to fund the Michael P. Hennen Hospitality and Culinary Center at Chattanooga State.
"Chattanooga is really getting behind this because we need quality-educated kids to get involved in new independently owned restaurants in this city," Hennen said. "I am very excited we will have local talent, and I think this talent will want to stay here."
For more information about the Michael P. Hennen Hospitality and Culinary Center at Chattanooga State, visit www.chattanoogastate.edu, or call 423-697-4462.
Students enrolled in the two-year program will be able to earn an associates degree in applied science in either food and beverage, hotel management, tourism or culinary arts, Shannon Johnson said. In preparation for courses to begin this fall a fully furnished hotel room has been constructed on campus and crews are working to finish a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen.
The program will be led by Johnson, who has more than 25 years of experience in the industry and started working for Hennen as a busboy when he was 17. After graduating from Central High School, Johnson studied at College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and has attended and worked for several other prestigious culinary institutions.
Johnson said being a chef has made him a natural teacher, and he believes the center at Chattanooga State is well-equipped for students to gain the experience they need to be a well-qualified workforce.
"Tourism is a billion-dollar business in Chattanooga, and the city will only benefit from this program," Johnson said. "We are definitely focused on students who complete the program finding work in the community, because we want this program to benefit students and Chattanooga."
Hennen and Johnson both said they are excited to include local business owners as lecturers and adjunct professors, as maintaining a strong relationships with the community is fundamental to the center's mission.
Former Mayor Jon Kinsey is one of the financial supporters of the program and he believes these degrees will benefit the students and the city by adding more quality hotels and restaurants to the local economy.
Kinsey also said it is very fitting that the center be named after Hennen's son, Michael Hennen, who died in 2011 at age 27.
"Michael epitomized hospitality and I feel like this was great way to improve the city and remember him," Kinsey said.
Tim Hennen agreed, saying the program is the perfect way to honor and remember his son who worked in the restaurant industry with him.
"He was better than I was at hospitality," Tim Hennen said. "This program is really going to be something special, just like him."
Contact Kendi Anderson at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.
A previous version of this story said Michael Hennen died last year. In fact, he died in 2011.