LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Part of the purpose of college is to help students get real-world experience before they enter the workforce.

For many college students, graduation requirements might include writing a research paper or completing a project.

But for a group of students in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky, their requirement is a little more hands-on and a lot more delicious.

For years, the Lemon Tree Restaurant at UK has been serving up quality meals for customers, but it’s also a classroom experience most college students never get.

“It truly is a student-driven restaurant,” said lecturer Emily Dewitt. “They are the ones delivering this from every single step along the way, whether that is, you know, the service itself or even our dishwashers in the back of the house; you know, they’re making sure that we’re able to do this in a manner that really upholds the standards and the expectations that our clients expect, what our guests in the dining room expect.”

Dewitt took the class herself and said she looks forward to pushing the next generation to achieve great things.

“I always tell them they have to work together to figure it out first,” Dewitt explained. “I’m certainly there to provide guidance, but my goal is to really help encourage them and challenge them to do this as if I’m not there. So, they always have to figure it out with one another, and if they get stuck, then they have to problem solve, and that’s when they can turn to me.”

Throughout the course of the semester, students have the chance to get hands-on experience in every role in the restaurant.

For many, it’s an eye-opening experience.

“I think the dishes for sure give you more appreciation of how much work goes into just going out to eat,” said senior Grace Cates.” When you’re the customer, you think, ‘Oh, I’m going to go get this.’ You know what cooking is like at home. But when you have to think of such a large production of food for so many people, you’re like, ‘Oh wow, it takes a lot more time than you would have thought.'”

In the kitchen, students are led by university chef-in-residence Bob Perry, whose 25 years of experience helps them not go up in flames.

“Chef Bob’s great,” Cates explained. “He’s very patient with us because, like I said, a lot of us haven’t really cooked before, especially for this many people. So having him always around and having his different experiences because he has a long list of diverse ones, I think really helps.”


And the customers take notice of what these students are doing.

The food is great for sure, and it’s nice that they get to learn how to do that,” Jason Swanson said. “A lot of times there’s little service issues, and it’s fun to see the students pick up on that and it’s fun to see how they solve those problems.”

When the dust settles after each class and after every dish is cleaned, Cates said the feeling of accomplishment for her and her classmates is like no other.

“I think getting to see the final product of when we actually get to serve it in there and having the customers have their pretty plates and it’s like, oh wow, a bunch of seniors in college made all this. It looks really good.”

Lemon Tree is only open two days a week and serves roughly 40 people per class.

Reservations are hard to come by, but to learn more, you can find information here.