Eugenia Theodosopoulos

Eugenia Theodosopoulos created the apprenticeship program so students could learn the craft without the fear of debt after certification.

With the overwhelming cost of higher education preventing many high school graduates from following their dreams, Eugenia Theodosopoulos, chef and owner of Arcadia’s Essence Bakery and Café, decided to create an apprenticeship program to help combat this problem.

According to Theodosopoulos, about 450 Arizona high schools offer culinary programs. Many of these students want to continue their education, but they find it cost prohibitive. That is where Theodosopoulos’ two-year paid apprenticeship comes in.

“Baking and culinary school tuition is so exorbitant,” Theodosopoulos said, adding that “when students graduate, they often don’t work in the field for long as it’s very difficult to repay student loans when they’re starting out in an industry where hands-on experience is a lot more useful than book knowledge.”

Theodosopoulos created this apprenticeship, which is in its pilot year, with the support of the Arizona chapter of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Based at Essence, this is the first established apprenticeship of its kind in the state. 

In addition to handling the management of the program, C-CAP helps these budding chefs with their soft skills, like teamwork, communication and problem-solving, while Theodosopoulos teaches them the art of baking and achieving culinary excellence.

“My apprenticeship program gives young people real-world, hands-on experience that leaves them free of debt. Upon completion, they’ll be certified by the state of Arizona as a Baking Apprentice, which is an internationally recognized certification, meaning they can pretty much work wherever they desire,” Theodosopoulos said.

Apprentices master the technique of making croissants, breads and Parisian macarons. They also learn how to mix pastry, pie and cookie dough. In addition to baking skills, students also become proficient in the selling aspect of baking as they prepare the pastry case and croissant display every morning. On the culinary spectrum, they are introduced to produce and taught how to receive, store and prep fruits and vegetables.

Currently, Theodosopoulos has two apprentices and one pre-apprentice under her tutelage. Her goal is to expand this educational opportunity into a state program, and as it grows, she hopes to broaden the range of culinary apprenticeships.

“I have a young lady who is going to start as a front-of-the-house apprentice,” Theodosopoulos said, “where she’ll concentrate on how to be in charge of the dining room, customers, service and all kinds of aspects that focus on the importance of the front of the house.”

Theodosopoulos is excited and optimistic about her program, describing it as “a skill for life.” As college tuition continues to soar, she feels this type of apprenticeship is going to explode in the future.

“We really want to involve many other restaurants, hotels/resorts and coffee shops in the future,” Theodosopoulos said. “Here in Arizona, the hospitality industry is so extensive that we need an experienced labor pool. From hotel management to food and beverage service, the apprenticeship possibilities are endless.”