A recent graduate of the hospitality management program at Brookdale Community College, Larissa Calamari has been working at Water Witch Coffee in Highlands, NJ, for the past seven months. She has already been promoted to kitchen manager.
“Larissa speaks very highly of the Brookdale program and her experience there,” said Valerie Browning, Water Witch Cafe & Fresh Market owner. “Her passion, work ethic and creativity are greatly appreciated and revered here at Water Witch.”
As the spring and summer months increasingly get busier, Water Witch will need more employees.
“It would be wonderful to employ more students who have the same passion for hospitality and the culinary arts,” Browning said.
Larissa grew up in Lincroft and went to Middletown South and always knew that she would go to Brookdale because it was such a great school, and it is close to her. However, when she graduated high school and went to Brookdale, she did not know what she wanted to do. So, she started to study graphic design and soon realized that she did not have those artistic skills.
She soon took a career test that Brookdale provides, and hospitality came up! With the advice from her advisor, she decided to pursue those studies. “And I loved it,” Calamari said.
For the first year, she took classes at the Brookdale campus in Lincroft, and then COVID happened, so in her second year, everything was on Zoom. However, she persevered through the second year and graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management. “I am so glad that I chose hospitality because I can work with people, and it offers me the opportunity to work in the food industry,” Calamari said.
“All my professors have been great. I learned a lot from them. If you put in the effort, they are willing to work with you. The one thing I liked about Brookdale is the free tutoring because it really helps you and teachers appreciate when you put that extra time in.”
At Water Witch she handles the preparation that goes into their sandwiches and dinners that they offer once a week.
“You know what is fun, I always come up with the weekly specials,” she said. “I have pride in that.”
Calamari also does inventory and ordering. Then, she observes the items high in stock to help her develop ideas for the specials. “It’s pretty fun using your imagination and creativity to see what you can come up with,” she said about the experience.
One of Calamari’s favorite Water Witch menu items is the “San Diego,” a breakfast burrito that is made with Machaca, a pulled pork that they simmer for six hours and is then cooked with a scrambled egg mixture that is spicy. She said, “Is absolutely fantastic!”
Calamari plans to enroll in Brookdale’s Culinary Arts program while continuing to work at Water Witch. She also works at 2NDFLOOR: Youth Help Line as a support counselor for the past three years. She got this part-time job while a full-time student at Brookdale.
Although her path has not been straight, she did not give up. “Slowly but surely if you keep at it, eventually things will work out,” she said, “With what Brookdale has given me and working with 2NDFLOOR to help guide young teens whose shoes I have been in to get to where I am today, is such a gift to pass on.”
Her advice for others following her is “Have patience and fun at the same time. Everyone has a different path. Sometimes it is going to take longer for things to work out. As long as you are patient and just try to be optimistic and enjoy what you currently have, then things will work out for you.”
Calamari’s end goal is to move to Vermont and own a cafe or bed and breakfast. In ten years, she will be 42 and hopes to have that dream become a reality.