Durham Tech to open culinary arts program in vacant American Tobacco spot

Durham Technical Community College plans to open a new culinary arts program at the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham, the community college said Tuesday.

Durham Tech’s new program will take over part of the former Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham space at the American Tobacco Campus, which was vacated last year. The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham was one of several for-profit schools owned by Dream Center Education Holdings to close last year, when Dream Center suffered serious financial and accreditation issues.

The Art Institute occupied several floors of the American Tobacco Campus, which is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s real estate arm. The Art Institute taught animation, design, film and audio production, fashion and culinary arts.

Durham Tech will lease classroom and commercial kitchen space on the first floor there starting in June, a spokeswoman for the community college said.

“It was designed to be a teaching facility, so it was really ideal for us to pursue that space,” Durham Tech President Bill Ingram said of the American Tobacco space. The location also places the culinary program in the heart of one of the Triangle’s thriving food hubs, a proximity that could be key to attracting students and potential employers to collaborate with the school, Ingram added.

Ingram said the school is still trying to figure out how to get in contact with former Art Institute students who may have been affected by its sudden closure.

But even before the Art Institute decided to vacate the city, Durham Tech was already in the process of seeking approval to start its own culinary program, Ingram said. In recent years, the school has beefed up its offerings in the hospitality industry, as restaurants and hotels across the region struggle to find employees, with unemployment levels across the country at their lowest in decades.

The new culinary program will attempt to address that, with classes scheduled to begin in the fall.

It will be the first time the school has offered associate degrees in the culinary arts. Before now, Durham Tech offered only continuing education culinary courses, in which students could only receive certifications or take one-time courses.

All of those offerings will be moved to the downtown location, with a certification on restaurant management getting more attention, Ingram said. The school thinks that in a couple year’s time, around 75 to 100 students a year could be taking part in the culinary program’s various offerings.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.