When Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau boss Joe Taylor went into the hospitality business many years ago, there was no place to go for formal training.

“I joke all the time that I learned how to do things by doing them wrong the first time,” he said.

Much has changed. Scott Community College has opened a $2.3 million Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Center, just in time for fall classes. While Scott has offered a culinary program since 1991 and a hospitality management degree for the past year and a half, it never has had its own building for lab work.

“The lab work was all done through the courtesy of the restaurants and hotels stepping up and saying you can use our kitchen or our facilities,” said Brad Scott, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Department chairman. “We’ve grown so much that the sites we were using were just overflowing with students and really causing a safety problem in some of these places.”

When Scott took over the culinary program in 1996, it had nine students. Now, the culinary and hospitality programs have a combined 137 students.

Scott credits the influx of students to the popularity of the Food Network and television cooking shows.

“People have got to eat,” he said.

Now, students in the program can get practical, hands-on experience in the many labs the new building offers. There’s a dining room where they can learn to take orders and set tables, a full kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances, a hotel room, a hotel lobby with a modern reservation system and commercial laundry facilities for towels and linens.

In the kitchen, flat-screen television monitors provide students with different angles of the stovetops and ovens as instructors prepare food. The facility also includes commercial dishwashers, trash compactors and other equipment students will encounter in the workplace.

The dining area, which doubles as classroom space that can be divided into two rooms, includes a point-of-sale ordering console just like those found in upscale restaurants. Once an order is entered into the system, it appears on a monitor in the kitchen, the same system at work in many eateries.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the hotel industry in this area,” said Kim Beardsley, rooms division manager at the Radisson on John Deere Commons in Moline. “The students are getting some live experience, and that doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Chris Carton, executive chef and food and beverage director for the Davenport RiverCenter, agreed.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for the community and for anyone that’s interested in the culinary arts, either as a hobby or a profession,” he said. “The facility that Brad Scott has put together is top-notch. It’s unbelievable what he’s doing over there.”

Carton said that many graduates of the college’s culinary program are now running restaurants in the Quad-Cities.

“Fifteen years ago, chefs were coming from out of town,” he said. “We really didn’t have the ability to train them here.”

Diane Stanley, head of the college’s hospitality program, said graduates can find work in many different places, such as hotels, resorts, casinos and even assisted-living facilities.

Taylor said opportunities in the hospitality industry in the Quad-Cities have multiplied through the years.

“When you think back to 1990, when the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau was founded, we had about 3,400 hotel rooms,” he said. “We have 50 percent more hotel rooms today, at about 5,400.

“Just stop and think about all the extra general managers, housekeepers, front desk personnel and maintenance workers needed to meet visitor demand. That alone shows growth.”

Lisa Lema, Bettendorf, enrolled in the culinary program because she had grown tired of her job in the kitchen cabinet business.

“When I started the program, I initially wanted to work in a restaurant as a cook. But at this point, I’m more interested in the management end of things,” she said. “I want the well-rounded experience and knowledge.”

Kayla Long, Clinton, Iowa, who is doing an apprenticeship at Wild Rose Casino & Resort, also in Clinton, is in the hospitality management program. She said she would like to make a career in the banquet and wedding reception business.

“I love to see when a bride comes in and sees how her reception hall is organized and how beautiful it is on her wedding day,” she said.