(COLORADO SPRINGS) — The Well reopened its doors to welcome new food vendors for the 2023 season including the launch of the new program Shovel Ready.

This new program gives adults real world culinary experience in cooking for the Southern Colorado community, while also getting paid at the same time.

“This is Shovel Ready, which is kind of like the starter program for a Pikes Peak workforce, which is a training ground for young culinary and just people in general that want to get into the culinary field,” Chef and President of Ascent Restaurant Group, Jay Gust, said.

Currently, the program has seven students who work both behind the ordering counter and in the kitchen on menu items.

The counter of Shovel Ready inside of The Well

Haley Jordan is one of the students in the program and just completed her first week.

“I was looking for a new opportunity in terms of jobs,” Jordan said. “So I was like, let me just put myself out there and I ended up like this, so I was really happy with it.”

Jordan previously worked in the fast-food industry which she said taught her a lot of real-world skills, but her new job with Shovel Ready is challenging her to become a better chef.

“I’ve done, like an internship for a couple of months before. But this is definitely different than anything I’ve ever done,” Jordan said. “I’ve never really worked in a real kitchen like this, so it’s a new experience and I really love it.”

Kate Doncilovic is the lead mentor of Shovel Ready and helps teach the students foundational skills in the hospitality industry.

“We want to give them the good habits and the good foundation so that when they go into the city, they’re good workers and they’re not behind and they can really pick up on the new items that they’re given,” Doncilovic said. “And it’s just, the day-to-day is just making sure the food’s going out and the quality is there and we’re teaching them as we go about it.”

One of the chefs seasoned the fries before plating the dish.

When visiting the Shovel Ready counter at The Well, there is a wide variety of meals available for purchase including open-faced sandwiches, Smashburger, fries, and soup.

“Well, right now we’re offering those Smorbrods, the open face, Scandinavian sandwiches,” Doncilovic said. “But we’re also offering a Smashburger, that’s probably our most popular right now is the Smashburger. The Vik is great if you add the cured salmon to it and then the Lilehammer is probably my other favorite.”

Smashburger cooked on Wednesday afternoon

When it comes to the most challenging meal, Jordan said it was the Smorbrods.

“But the open-faced sandwiches are pretty hard for me just because I’ve never been like a super like presentation person,” Jordan said. “I was never really good at it and those are like mostly presentation because you don’t really cook anything.”

Gust, who works in the Colorado Springs hospitality industry, is hopeful this program will help bring new talent into the workforce.

“I mean, when I got into it, I was 13 years old when I got into the hospitality and the culinary world and I’ve never left it,” Gust said. “And it’s just it’s always great to see really that youth being engaged and being the next… entrepreneurs, they’re the next restauranteurs, and it’s super, super needed for our community.”

Every six weeks, the program will rotate and bring in more students to the program. Apprentices will gain experience working shifts at lunch and dinner at The Well.

“I love all the people that I’m working with right now,” Jordan said. “We’re all kind of different ages, different experiences, but I really think that we’re all going to work well together, so I’m really excited to see where it goes.”

If you are interested in applying to the new culinary program, application information can be found online.

Students in the program will also work at catered events at the City Auditorium.

“This is the starter workforce program that will be also applied into the City Auditorium, which is going to be just a real beacon and a pillar for the community of not only arts, but theater and music and hospitality and culinary and whatnot,” Gust said.

Inside of The Well on Wednesday afternoon several gathered for lunch

The goal after completing the program is to pair students with independent restaurants that need staff.

“I think that this is going to prepare me to go out into the culinary world because eventually, I want to like, become a private chef,” Jordan said. “And I think that this is going to really help me get there.”