New manager at Café Laura looks to build program

Kevin Johnston, general manager of Café Laura at Penn State. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Café Laura, the educational “living lab” that operates in a partnership between Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management and the Department of Housing and Food Services, is under new management.

Kevin Johnston is Café Laura’s new general manager, replacing Scott King, who retired in March after 21 years serving in that position. Johnston, who was most recently a food service manager in East Food District, is a 2010 graduate of Penn State's hospitality management program.

Open to the public and operated entirely by students, Café Laura serves lunch during the school year Monday through Friday and is a popular spot for faculty, staff, and students. It includes a coffee shop that serves Starbucks coffee as well as a selection of Penn State Bakery pastries. Recent renovations include new dining room furniture and new Vulcan kitchen equipment.

Each semester, the café's theme dinners are popular on-campus dining events. Designed to give students experience in hospitality management skills and techniques, each dinner features cuisine from a particular culture or area of the world. Students research and produce an authentic restaurant environment from a selected theme, and then manage all aspects of preparing and serving the theme dinner.

“It’s an interesting and successful partnership,” Johnston says. “I meet with hospitality management faculty from time to time and work closely with them. We have a shared goal to show students what it’s like to run a profitable operation, and it’s remarkable how the students put this show on.”

Looking ahead, Johnston plans to explore possibilities for becoming more efficient. “We always want to improve and create the best possible opportunity for students,” he says. “I’m interested in possibly partnering with Penn State’s Student Farm — it would be great to combine the student lab out in the field with this lab in the kitchen, possibly doing a Pennsylvania local meal.” Johnston is also interested in a possible collaboration with Penn State’s Meats Lab.

For Johnston, working with hospitality management students is rewarding. “It’s the coolest thing,” he says. “These students are learning to become restaurant professionals. It’s great to see that passion in them and to be able to help them when they come to me with questions.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to come back to the school that’s given me so much,” he continues. “A lot of my friends have graduated from this program so it’s exciting to be able to tell them I’m the general manager of Café Laura.”

Last Updated May 14, 2018