#DErestaurantlife – not just our newest/most favorite hashtag, but a true way of life for the 50,000+ strong that make up Delaware’s restaurant industry! We’ll be shining the spotlight on one wonderfully unique restaurant staffer each month, and asking the question, “Why Restaurants?” We know our answer, but we want to hear from YOU – what about this industry makes it a great place to work? Why do you love it? And why can’t you imagine doing anything else? Send us a message if (or someone you know) wants to be featured!

Apprentice Clarissa Haglid

Line Cook Apprentice, Food Bank Culinary School & HOPES Graduate

For graduate Clarissa Haglid, The Culinary School was the second chance she needed and her first opportunity to celebrate a graduation. “My experience at the Food Bank of Delaware has been a lifeline for me, being back in society,” she said. “It’s helped my mental health, helped me regain confidence. I still have something to offer, and I’m able to reach people. I have support.”
Currently employed at two hotels in Newark, Clarissa is the first HOPES graduate in the country (Hospitality Opportunities for People (re)Entering Society) to be enroll in a US Dept of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program. She has transitioned from a correctional facility to full-time employment on a path to earning Line Cook journeyperson papers. Her future goals?  To showcase the skills and training she has acquired and use her story as a catalyst for change. “I really hope to be give a Ted Talk one day,” Clarissa states.  Through speaking engagements, she hopes to reach out to others facing similar challenges, letting them know that opportunities do exist, and that they too can embrace a new beginning.

Chef/Culinary Instructor Riki Senn

Culinary Instructor & ProStart Educator at Caesar Rodney High School

I was a music major, but throughout college I worked in restaurants for extra cash. I always worked in the front of the house (waiting tables) but was always drawn to the back of the house and spent a lot of time in the kitchen watching the cooks and asking questions. Ultimately I migrated to the kitchen and eventually took it over – with friends we opened one white tablecloth restaurant and one rib house, and we were successful. I won a national contest for professional chefs where the grand prize was a trip to Germany to the Culinary Olympics, where I met so many influential people and eventually was hired by the executive chef at The Greenbrier Resort (a 5-star, 5-diamond resort). I worked in their fine dining restaurant and became their cooking school director. This cooking school featured the country’s top chefs and top cookbook authors, and I was fortunate enough to work with them all – Julia Child, Jean-Louis Palladin, Marcel Desaulniers, Rick Bayless, Louis Osteen, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, Nathalie Dupree, Rose Levy Berenbaum, Graham Kerr, Andre Soltner, Jasper White, and Patrick O’Connell, just to name a few. I was at The Greenbrier for 13 years before my husband was transferred to Delaware. 
I once told an employer that I had demi-glace in my veins (it worked and got me a position back in the kitchen/culinary school!)..and it’s true! I cook all the time at home. I love seafood of all kinds, most especially scallops and cook them often. I also love all vegetables! My husband and I do some catering on the side and are known for our pulled pork BBQ and our crabcakes. I am not as well versed in pastry as in savory cuisine but love to bake and make desserts too. Current favorite restaurants?  One Coastal, Lewes Oyster House and Bluecoast Seafood.

Jaymeerah Harris

Kitchen Manager Apprentice, Redfire Grill & Steakhouse (Hockessin)

Once I made it to high school (at Hodgson Vo-Tech) I told myself whatever career area I choose I will put my all into it with no excuses. So I chose Culinary arts and participated in the Prostart. Program. After working in the restaurant industry for a few years, I reached back out to my mentors from high-school after graduation; Chef Scott Cave and Chef Gerald Allen connected me to the RYRA program and I’ve been a part of the Apprenticeship program and working for Platinum Dining Group ever since. 
My reasoning for choosing this industry is simply because I enjoy what I do. I love to cook but most of all I love working within a team atmosphere and being of help to those around me….it’s what makes all the time sacrificed worth while. I personally believe ministry begins within family but once you work with a company for a long time they become bonus family and they all trickle into one. 

Van Thongvong

CEO of the Awesome Department, Pizza by Elizabeths (Wilmington)

My first restaurant job has been my only job…. I’ve been at Pizza By Elizabeth’s for 25 years. My current title is CEO of the Awesome Department. I started as the dishwasher when I was like 13 (kidding!) and worked my way up learning every single job. I haven’t left because Betsy LeRoy, the Coolest Boss EVER and won’t let me leave (kidding again). She really is the best and treats me like a son. 
I’ve always loved food so choosing the restaurant industry was a easy choice for me. I come from a Southeast Asian background so eating and cooking with family is our culture. I still remember watching my Mom and Aunts in the kitchens cooking all day. Just the smell of spicy papaya salad, pho, mint, and cilantro takes me to a happy place. Every day is different in the restaurant, I can honestly tell you I never know what I’m going to walk into everyday. I could either be cutting down weeds or putting out fires, but that’s what make it exciting and you just “Don’t Stop Believing” that you’re going to get through it.
My advice to the future rock stars looking to get in this industry is to remember to have fun! Because that’s what its all about. Everything else will fall into place.    

Chef/Owner Nikki Ali

Trini Quizeen (Dover)

My first food industry job was at Old Country Buffet in Toms River, NJ – I was a line server and moved up quite quickly into a supervisor role because I was also in retail for 22 plus years, where I realized my joy was keeping customers happy – I am a people person and big on keepin’ folks happy! MY WHY is actually a WHY NOT….why not share my country’s food where I am from (Trinidad and Tobago) – the food is on a whole other level….the flavors are nothing you have ever tasted before, I guarantee it! I choose to make this my career because after that many years in retail and seeing people laid off and being laid off myself I figured I can work hard for myself just as well as I can work for someone else…but mainly to bring a new flavor to Delaware as there isn’t any other Trinidad and Tobago restaurant here! I plan to expand and am working on securing a grant to do the expansion.


My advice is that if you have a dream, make sure it’s BIG…and follow it! you Don’t allow anyone to take away from what you believe in – you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. There will be obstacles but they are called OBSTACLES for a reason….they are put in your path and made for you to get over them. COVID was my obstacle never thought I’d make it through (I opened in Dec 2019) – but I see the light at the end of the tunnel coming soon. DREAM BIG AND GO AFTER YOUR DREAMS! The food industry is hard, don’t get me wrong – but what isn’t hard?! If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

Sarah Arsenault, Chef

Cool Springs Fish Bar (Dover, DE)

I’ve always wanted to be a chef. My parents cook, my grandparents cook – and by the third grade I wrote an autobiography about becoming a chef. My first job was in a restaurant, and I started at Cool Springs when I was 16…and I’ve been there over 20 years now!

I love this industry because I get to be creative with specials every day, and get feedback from my coworkers and customers. I love the feeling when a customer raves about the meal I’ve cooked for them. Caring for people and showing love through food is what I do – even on my days off I still love to cook for friends and family. I’ve made most of my best friends (and my boyfriend) working in restaurants. 

Every night is a rush….especially on weekends when people are lined up around the building and you know the place will be filled within minutes of opening. As stressful as things get, there’s such a sense of fulfillment at the end of the night knowing that you worked hard and have made hundreds of people happy.

Tamara Earl / Chef Entrepreneur

Delectablez (Wilmington, DE)

The culinary arts was always the path for me. Since the age of 12 I have been in the kitchen experimenting with different foods and cooking methods. I am intrigued with creating something out of nothing. Once I found ProStart in high school (culinary curriculum at William Penn) I knew I had to be in that class! Learning about FOH and BOH really helped me see both sides of the industry….really helping me to be versatile. 

After I won the first annual CROP foundation scholarship, I knew I wanted to attend Johnson & Wales University and hone my culinary skills. I graduated and immersed myself in the industry, working at hotels and restaurants in Miami FL. I really wanted to impact my community with my gift and felt like I couldn’t do that as I was stripped of my creativity and most foods were frozen with little room to really elevate the dishes. I was so used to the farm to table style cooking, and I really wanted to continue that. Once I had my son I started to research the ingredients in foods that he was consuming. I was stunned, confused and angry that most ingredients are harmful and are currently banned in other countries. That’s when I started experimenting with food alternatives and making my own ‘cheezes,’ juices, breads etc. It clicked for me that this was my path, to bring more delicious healthy foods to my community. I developed my brand Delectablez with the mission to bring a more plant forward cuisine to Delaware. 

Since then I’ve been in the kitchen whipping up yummy ‘nature to table’ vegan foods. I have won season 2 of Aisle Trials, and received various awards and recognition as a black- woman owned business. I am now wholesaling my vegan Cheeze to select restaurants and pizzeria’s in Delaware. My pop up location has been inside DECO food hall since Feb-2022 and I have gotten lots of great feedback. I have customers that tell me I’ve made a difference in their life and that they have become more health conscious. That in itself keeps me going and wanting to bring more to my community, this is just the beginning!

Rex Lotito, Bartender / Traveler

The Starboard & Starboard Raw (Dewey Beach, DE)

With some people (me) restaurants get in your blood; the serendipity, high energy, constant moving parts and personalities all challenge and reward at the same time. I’ve dipped into other industries and jobs (the high school drop out but went back for an MBA) but I just don’t function anywhere else. It’s inane when people deem other jobs as “ real jobs.” I travel because I don’t like being inert in any way and love to constantly learn. Traveling is learning and seeing other cultures, landscapes and the other 8 billion people. I’m always 24/7 switched on when traveling as every moment is unfamiliar. I see people in 3rd countries doing unspeakable and insane jobs for no money and that’s all they’ll ever know and have. Sooooooo, I’m grateful to have the opportunity of being 5 deep for hours “just making drinks, ordering food and listening to music” for a ton of money in comparison.