Like many CIA freshmen, Eddie Ledesma arrived on campus with aspirations of becoming an executive chef. But after returning from externship, he discovered his true passion. “The restaurant classes, the wines course, the bachelor’s courses…they all really helped foster a love for the front of the house.”
So after graduating from the CIA's bachelor's degree program, Eddie joined The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL as assistant manager of food & beverage. “I know people’s first impressions of me had to be ‘who is this kid and why is he one of our managers?’,” he says. “I had to ‘own it’ and be confident in the skills and training I received while at CIA but at the same time be willing to learn new skills.”
After a little over a year in Florida, Eddie moved to Philadelphia to work for Restaurant Associates, where he became restaurant & beverage manager at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. After about two years, he was offered a position as general manager of food service at Urban Outfitters headquarters in South Philadelphia. Unfortunately, in January 2009, he lost his job due to the economic downturn, but found another as a lead trainer and server with Seasons 52 (a Darden restaurant concept) in Cherry Hill, NJ.
Eddie’s involvement and connections with the college soon proved invaluable in bouncing back from adversity. “Thanks to my involvement with the CIA Alumni Council, in the fall of 2009 I found myself having lunch with Cameron Mitchell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees,” he says. Cameron made Eddie an offer he couldn’t refuse—dining room manager at Ocean Prime in Dallas, which brought Eddie back to his home state of Texas. He managed and trained a staff of 45 in the 475 seat dining room that included 15,000 square feet of restaurant space including four private dining rooms, outdoor terrace, and bar and lounge. He was then chosen to serve as the dining room manager and training manager for the opening of Ocean Prime Denver (January 2011), Ocean Prime Atlanta (October 2011), and Ocean Prime Indianapolis (May 2012).
Eddie’s experience with the Cameron Mitchell Restaurant Group ignited another passion: wine education, tasting, pairing, and presentation. This led Eddie to his newest position as Vice President of Operations at RAVEN Wine Management Systems, LLC, a wine services company that provides outsourced wine operations for associate restaurants that help make their wine programs successful and profitable.
According to Eddie, there was no “one thing” that he got from CIA's bachelor's degree that has helped him become successful—it was many things. “Interpersonal communication, accounting and the ins and outs of a P&L, costing, the importance of networking and maintaining close ties to the school once you graduate…all have been key factors to my success.” he says.
If there is just one thing he would recommend to others interested in a successful career in foodservice, it is the importance of following your dreams. “The CIA will give you all the tools and resources you need to build your dream,” Eddie says. “All you have to do is bring your love for food and unwavering determination to succeed and you will!”