At the Core of Community Involvement
Infusing a City Center with Life
In Denver, a city founded by prospectors and rooted in a gold rush, the focus on
hospitality dates back to the 1860s when there were saloons and hotels before
there were schools. But it wasn’t until the last decade or so that Denver shook its
“cow town” image and emerged as one of the cosmopolitan centers of the West.
A combination of public and private financing that began in the mid 1990s
led to investments in three sports stadiums, a new museum, expansion of the
theatre district, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the arrival of elite
As one of the country’s leading hospitality and culinary arts universities,
Johnson & Wales fit naturally into the city’s efforts and has played an active role
in Denver’s transformation. Since the university opened its campus in 2000, it
has been a steady source of skilled workers and entrepreneurs.
“The undergraduate degrees in hospitality and culinary arts at Johnson &
Wales are in the wheelhouse of Denver and Colorado in the sense that tourism
is the number one industry in Colorado,” says Andre Pettigrew, executive director
of the Denver Office of Economic Development. “Johnson & Wales has had the
ability to provide a range of workers for that industry.”
“The biggest role is that they are connected to the business community and
they have a seat at the table in all the dialogue happening in our city,” adds
Richard Scharf, president of VISIT DENVER, the city’s convention and visitor’s
bureau. “We’re making a great city that is involved in an industry that happens
to be one of JWU’s core strengths.”
While hospitality is at the center of JWU’s curriculum in Denver — about
80 percent of the 1,450 students are enrolled in either the College of Culinary
Arts or The Hospitality College — it’s only one of the ways the school is involved
in the city. As a business enterprise in the Mile High City, Johnson & Wales
accounts for about 545 jobs in the metropolitan area and more than $50 million
in economic output. About 170 full- and part-time employees work on campus.
More than $31 million in goods, services, taxes and fees was spent by the
university, its students, and the visitors who came to the campus in fiscal 2009.
Denver Campus graduates, students and faculty have helped to staff The
Ritz-Carlton Hotel, managed recycling projects with the Denver Broncos and
hosted 800 members of the National Guard during the 2008 Democratic
National Convention. In fall 2008, students provided more than 444 hours of
research, strategic planning and consulting services to clients of the Colorado
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on campus. Others have set up shop
on their own. Denver’s growing reputation for good food has been enriched by the
openings of Always Haute, the Pour House Pub, Rosa Linda’s Mexican Café, Spice
of Life Catering and many other startups led by grads during the past decade.
Since being recruited to Denver by some of Colorado’s leading business figures,
Johnson & Wales has invested more than $80 million to restore buildings on the
campus, improve the streetscape and upgrade an area that was in need of revitalization.
The first acquisition was an empty building that formerly held the law
school for the University of Denver.
“We’ve been a part of elevating the whole neighborhood,” says Denver
Campus President Bette Matkowski. “We have made a commitment to protecting
the historic nature of the campus and that is important to the community.”
choosing to lead
In 2001, the Denver Campus created its Community Leadership Institute, which serves
as the nexus for community outreach activities. All students at the Denver Campus are
required to take three leadership concentration courses in the School of Arts & Sciences.
In Foundations of Leadership Studies, students participate in community service learning
at community organizations and schools in the Denver area. During the 2008–2009
school year, students, faculty and staff provided about 31,300 hours of community
service through volunteer activities and service learning courses.
The university will engage the community in a new way in fall 2010, when
it launches adult and continuing education programs in the culinary arts, hospitality
“That’s a really huge undertaking,” says Matkowski. “We anticipate we’ll bring in
120 new students for the first year. It’s a big endeavor for us to reach out to the
adult part-time student.”
Yet it’s another example of JWU meeting the demands of its community, as
Matkowski says it has done for a decade.
“The past for Denver has been to be western and to be cowboys and cowgirls,” she
says. “That is still respected and honored, but we’re a part of making Denver more of a
destination. More of a city with big ideas that people choose to come to.”
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