JWU Charlotte Hosts North Carolina ProStart Invitational

ProStart Invitational Student Competitors.

Lizzie Haller says she wants to be a lawyer, but she admits it is scary thinking about presenting in a courtroom. That is why she was excited — and nervous — about competing in the 2019 NC ProStart Invitational, which was hosted at JWU’s Charlotte Campus. On March 8, Lizzie, a junior at Cleveland High School, represented one of 15 area high schools competing for a slot at the national competition, as well as scholarship funding to assist in continuing their education in hospitality-related fields.

The two-day event focused on restaurant management and culinary arts skills. Lizzie and the other competitors put their know-how to the test in front of industry leaders, friends and family, including her mother, Cathy. “This is a great experience for her. This is taking her to another level and she’s excelling in it. She’s getting the experience of interacting with other people and the planning behind it.”

"These students are definitely steps beyond their peers."

The “planning” is a restaurant concept. The management competition includes creating a menu, floor plan, creating a brand and more. As she plans to pursue a career in law, she knows the ProStart experience is invaluable. “This has helped me calm my nerves. The thought of being in front of people who are judging you and they nit-pick at you. I’ve been able to practice and gain confidence and present to my teachers who give me feedback.”

That feedback is invaluable as the students gain real-world experience. “If we can intercept them now and expose them to careers in the hospitality industry, they’ll most likely stay in this industry and that’s our goal,” said Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the NC Restaurant & Lodging Association. “They get 200 hours of work experience and we partner them with local restaurants for mostly paid internships.”

It was fun, so I wish I could do it again!”

NC Superintendent Mark Johnson toured the ProStart Invitational and met with some of the students and their high school mentors, clearly impressed with their culinary skills and their cool demeanor under pressure. “By starting early and learning now, they know this may be something they want to pursue. This is important and exciting. These students are definitely steps beyond their peers.”

Although Lizzie’s student management team did not place for their Boots & Bling Bistro restaurant concept, she says she knows she was fortunate to participate. “I learned that even if you are nervous about anything, if you show people that you are confident, they won’t even notice how nervous you are and you can hold yourself together better. I’m kind of relieved ProStart is over, but it was fun, so I wish I could do it again!”


  • 1st place: Cary High School, Cary
  • 2nd place: Smithfield Selma High School, Smithfield
  • 3rd place: TC Roberson High School, Asheville


  • 1st place: Smithfield Selma High School, Smithfield
  • 2ndplace: North Buncombe High School, Weaverville
  • 3rd place: Erwin High School, Asheville

Judging during the ProStart Invitational.

Presentation during ProStart Invitational.