“When you give them a tremendous education like this, it only serves to strengthen the foundations for their careers moving forward," Mitchell says. "As they progress in the industry, they'll continue to drive the industry in Columbus and create great new restaurants [here] for the next 10 to 20 years. I just know the community is going to be so much better for it.”
For more than two decades, Cameron Mitchell has flown all over the country and the world looking for inspiration for his ever-changing and growing chain of restaurants. As one of the key drivers of a new building at Columbus State Community College, he again headed toward the heavens several years ago to find ideas for a project he calls a “game changer” for the community.
Mitchell, CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, last year announced the lead $2.5 million pledge for the school’s new $33 million Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts building that will be named Mitchell Hall. “In the beginning (of the planning process), we flew to several culinary schools in the Midwest to benchmark what we wanted to do,” Mitchell says. “I’m unaware of any facility (in the region) that’s like this.”
Mitchell, who now is in his mid-50s, attended Columbus State in 1984 to take prerequisite courses before he went on to earn an associate degree in 1986 from the Culinary Institute of America. The project at Columbus State has special meaning for someone who graduated from Upper Arlington High School ranked 592 out of 597 students with a 1.05 grade point average.
In fact, when his pledge was announced, he got a few text messages from friends asking him if he ever dreamed he’d have his name on an academic building. His answer was short and sweet – “No,” he says.
Mitchell led the $10 million fundraising campaign for Mitchell Hall. Expected to open in August, the facility will double the culinary program’s capacity to more than 1,500 students. It’s not hyperbolic to call it state-of-the-art. It will include:A professionally managed, student-staffed, 50-seat restaurant and bar and 20-seat retail café and bakery, both with outdoor seating. A 400-plus-seat banquet-capacity conference center with onsite catering and a sweeping balcony overlooking downtown. Onsite farm-to-table food production gardens. A 100-seat culinary theater.
“It will be a game-changer for thousands of aspiring culinary and hospitality students here in Columbus,” Mitchell says. “It’s incredible and has everything you could want in a modern, state-of-the art hospitality culinary school. The reason it’s a game-changer—some students will move [after they graduate] but the majority will stay in Columbus,” he says. “When you give them a tremendous education like this, it only serves to strengthen the foundations for their careers moving forward. As they progress in the industry, they’ll continue to drive the industry in Columbus and create great new restaurants [here] for the next 10 to 20 years. I just know the community is going to be so much better for it.”
Columbus State President David Harrison says the new building wouldn’t have been possible without Mitchell’s vision and leadership. “Cameron looked at me six years ago and says, ‘How do we make this happen?’ ” Harrison says in a statement for Columbus CEO. “From that conversation, he worked side-by-side with us to bring city, state and private sectors together to create a world-class learning opportunity for students and a community asset that is already catalytic in downtown development. We’re very fortunate to have Cameron and his team as great partners.”
A member of the Columbus Partnership since 2011, Mitchell has seen firsthand the power of collaboration and what selfless leadership means to the community. “You now have 75 local CEOs involved and every single one ‘to a T’ has no other agenda but moving Columbus forward and impacting the quality of life for all Columbus residents,” he says. “If you look around this community, the transformation has been incredible. And there’s more to come.”