July 09, 2024

Promoted from within through restaurant apprenticeship

Dat Jerk district manager’s apprenticeship experience is a roadmap to a bigger, better career path.

Shelly LaRue, currently enrolled in the Foundation's manager apprenticeship program, is Dat Jerk Caribbean Chargrill's new district manager.

Shelly LaRue never thought losing her marketing job at online florist FTD Flowers would result in a life-changing career in the restaurant industry.

“As a kid, I kind of grew up working,” she says. “My first job was at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but once I started my career, I went to work in the corporate world. It was only during the pandemic that I realized I wanted something else. That’s when my two best friends and I decided to open CafĂ© Coco Latte. With help from a grant and training workshop, we opened and witnessed first-hand the grind of business ownership. We put a lot of hard work into it, but, unfortunately, because of bad timing and a less-than-great location, the cafe didn’t succeed.”

LaRue, who’d toiled in corporate business for 22 years before opening her restaurant, returned to the corporate sector to find work. 

New world, emerging possibilities

In her search, LaRue found a remote position handling marketing and social media for Dat Jerk Caribbean Chargrill, a 5-unit, Maryland-based, fast-casual restaurant brand. Committed to success, she helped increase the chain’s number of online followers, its popularity, and sales. 

LaRue was happy serving as social media director, but Angela Melton Fray, Dat Jerk’s COO, had another idea in mind. She wanted to turn LaRue into the company’s district manager, however, that would not only require commitment and hard work, but operational knowledge as well. Fray turned to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship program (HSRA) for assistance. She enrolled Dat Jerk as an employer partner and encouraged Shelly to participate in the managerial training initiative, which combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction.

The HSRA program, housed in the Foundation’s Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center (RHLC), offers line cook, kitchen manager, and restaurant manager apprenticeship tracks in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor. The programs are free to employers, like Fray, as well as their employees, and merge on-the-job training and mentorship with an industry-focused curriculum that helps guide staff members toward successful restaurant careers. This hybrid learning also provides employees with the leadership and management skills necessary to take on greater responsibilities in the workplace.

A star is born

A “born” operator, LaRue is currently six months into her coursework and thriving. She, along with 10 other Dat Jerk managers and assistant managers, are enrolled in the program and learning everything from controlling costs to food safety best practices to proper customer service, and more. She also recently moved to Maryland to begin her journey as Dat Jerk’s new district manager.

“It’s funny; this wasn’t something I raised my hand to do, but Angela saw something in me,” LaRue says. “She felt I had a knack for management, and while I didn’t exactly realize it at the time, I do now, too. I very much love it—the direct contact with people, working with the team, and getting to touch and feel what I’m selling every day. In the corporate world, I felt like a number, but working for this company, I feel like a part of the family.”

According to Fray, LaRue always does things to help the team. She uses the entrepreneurial experience gained at her own business to teach other managers on Dat Jerk’s team and that’s invaluable, she explains.

Training for the future

“It's been a blessing,” Fray says. “Even before Shelly started the program, I saw how she quickly shared of herself and her ideas with the team. Because of that, I told her about the apprenticeship program, and that I wanted her to take what she already knew and enhance it by 1,000%. I knew it would help her do that. Today she helps train our other staffers in the apprenticeship program, and that’s helpful to me because it allows me to reach more people and grow them into managers. She’s become my right-hand person in charge.

“Her willingness to learn, her commitment, and enthusiasm are just infectious,” Fray continues. “I’ve told her that as she continues to grow, I intend for her to become a bigger, more intricate part of this company. Right now, she’s our district manager, running our operations in Maryland and soon Texas, where we plan to expand. She deserves every bit of the title and every bit of the pay.” 

Even though she’s only halfway finished with the apprenticeship program, LaRue says she’s already gained a wealth of education and self-confidence.

“With what I've learned so far, I feel like I can succeed anywhere,” she says. “It’s grown me, given me more information—information I didn't have before. It's helping me manage my team better. Without having this additional tool, it would have been like going to school without books. Now, I see that the possibilities are endless.”

Learn more about the NRAEF’s apprenticeship program here
Supported by
  • For the past 20 years, the Coca-Cola Company has partnered with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to develop new leaders and talent, while giving employees the ability to advance their skills and increase their income. Today, The Coca-Cola Company launched their Coca-Cola Leader Lab , a people-centric leadership program that addresses a significant issue facing the future of foodservice: attracting, developing and retaining an engaged frontline workforce.
    Learn more