Little Rock native Todd Gold started as a dishwasher at Bruno’s Little Italy in 1988. By 18, he was kitchen manager. After graduating from La Maison Meridian, the Memphis Culinary Academy, in 1993, he was a sous chef and executive chef for hotels, country clubs and restaurants in the Little Rock area.
Gold became associate dean of the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College in 2006. He was also owner of the Purple Cow restaurants from 2007-12, and is a current member of the National Restaurant Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Skal International, the Chaine Des Rotisseurs and the American Culinary Federation, where he is president of its Central Arkansas Cooks Association.
What student trends do you see at UA-PTC’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute?
I see more students working full time and going to school full time now. Students are looking for a solid foundation to build on. We have a small number who will complete a semester, then take the next one off and come back the following semester. I suppose everybody is busier than ever. Our students are very passionate, and it is a privilege to be a part of their journey. They care about what they learn and create. We are seeing Arkansas grow into a culinary and hospitality destination, and our students are a big part of that future.
You helped develop Pulaski Tech’s Arkansas Culinary School. What did that mean to you?
After I graduated from culinary school in 1993, I got involved with the chapter of American Culinary Federation here in Little Rock. The ACF had an apprenticeship program, and I was very drawn to that. In 1996, I incorporated that apprenticeship program as the Arkansas Culinary School. Ten years later, in 2006, we merged with Pulaski Technical College to offer associate degrees to our students — 47 at that time. I started out volunteering and eventually it grew into a full-time position. Now, 25 years later, the school has become my life’s work, passion and love! We’ve come a long way from being an apprenticeship program using donated space.
The restaurant business is hard and risky. Why do so many people want to own restaurants, and do you think the market will reach a saturation point?
Sometimes on the first day of culinary school I ask our new students what they want to do after they graduate, and 80 percent of them say they want to own their own restaurant. I really think that is the dream of any culinarian. Yes, the dream comes with long hours, hard work and stress. And it can be great. I genuinely enjoyed my five years at The Purple Cow. But I also have no plans of owning my own restaurant again. That dream I am happy to pass along to our students. More and more people travel and eat out every day, and it would take a complete culture shift to alter this. I don’t think the restaurant and hospitality business will ever stop growing.
How hard is it finding workers, and how will the rise of the minimum wage affect restaurants?
It can be hard finding excellent team members. A significant part of the workforce is stepping into the industry for a brief time on the way to other plans. Others have worked their way up and are looking to keep rising. The difference comes down to passion, talent and determination. For the most part, longevity is not something we see often in this industry.
I think the bigger impact of the minimum wage increase will be to those establishments that increase the pay rates of employees already earning above minimum wage. Ultimately, the increased labor costs will have to be realized by customers. We all know the saying — it’s a penny-nickel-dime business, and there just isn’t room for higher labor costs if you want to stay in the black.