By Dan Harty SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — After more than 14 years working in the catering department at Syracuse University, Donna Pascarella was looking for a change.
“After SU, I was thinking I didn’t want to do full time work anymore,” Pascarella said. “I just wanted to do something different. I had been there, done that.”
About a year ago, Pascarella found what she was looking for. She started a new job as a cooking class instructor at Vince’s Gourmet Imports, a traditional Italian imports store and deli in North Syracuse.
Since then, Pascarella has been teaching up to 12 cooking students in Vince’s cooking classes that are held a few times every week. Pascarella’s expertise comes from years of experience in which she picked up skills every step of the way.
“When I was little, I learned from my mother and grandmother,” Pascarella said. “Then I went to school for hotel and restaurant management. I learned from different restaurants and I’m still learning today.”
With Pascarella at the helm, Vince’s cooking classes have continued to be one of the store’s most popular features.
However, when customers first presented the idea of cooking classes to Vince’s owner Sam Mondello five years ago, he was a bit skeptical.
“I originally told people, ‘No. I’m not going to do them,'” Mondello said. “And I kept getting asked for it. If I get asked for something numerous times, that’s usually a good sign that there’s a need out there for it.”
After a lot of convincing, Mondello installed sporadic cooking classes, once or twice per month. He soon realized, however, his customers wanted more. With increased demand, Mondello soon set aside a few nights per week for cooking classes and the people kept coming.
“At the end of the second year, the classes had gotten so popular,” Mondello said. “By the time we released [the schedule for] the last three months, I think I sold [all of the classes] out in like three hours.”
To this day, Vince’s continues to sell out cooking classes. Mondello credits Pascarella’s ability to connect with her students. Pascarella said that’s easy to do, especially because she loves coming to work every day.
“Sam certainly promotes a family atmosphere,” Pascarella said. “He’s a family guy and you can tell. He knows people’s names when they come in like it’s Cheers. It’s a great place to work.”