The year was 1989 and a very determined young man named Rich Busalacchi sat on top of the roof of the MATC Downtown Milwauke campus on a sunny August day with stars in his eyes and thoughts injected out into the universe. As the Day Student Senate President, Busalacchi told the MATC Times in an article published that year, “There were a lot of things I noticed that I felt needed some changing,” in reference to gutting out an old senate office to make it better.
Today, he has accomplished much more. Dr. Rich Busalacchi is the associate dean of Hospitality programs, and the person who negotiated the plans to construct the 6th Street Café inside Downtown Milwaukee’s M-Building on the first floor. It is here that students get the opportunity to have a close, learning relationship with faculty and participate in a working environment, making, serving and selling the Pastry Arts desserts, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, specialty coffee, soups and salads that are displayed on the modern digital menu. The revamping of the Downtown Milwaukee space into the posh 6th Street Café has helped to shape future chefs. Hands-on training secures the confidence and performance of students in the Baking Production technical programs for their Baking and Pastry Arts associate degree. Much positive energy has been released because of the latest changes.
“I started working with him when he was first appointed associate dean,” said Martha Miller, administrative assistant to Busalacchi. “There was a whole group of us who nicknamed him the Baby Dean because he had never been any dean before. We even got him a baby cup that says Baby Dean on it. I think he still has it in his office. He’s a really nice guy to work for who goes out of his way to help the students. If he’s in his office, he will see them. He puts his whole heart and soul into it. I think he lives and breathes MATC,” she added.
“He’s done a lot to help those in the café and the baking and pastry programs,” said Andrew Schneider, Bakery and Pastry Arts instructor. “He works good as far as a middleman with financials where we really don’t have to worry about that side of it. He’s a good intermediate to help us out with what needs to be done to keep a project like this moving.”
Busalacchi’s work to create the new Cuisine Restaurant was noted by John Reiss, Culinary Arts instructor. “He had great vision. Some of these things we had been talking about for years but they were falling on deaf ears. And Rich was able to take these ideas we talked about and put them together into a plan and sell the plan to the college, he said. “Transforming what used to be a tucked away, little restaurant on the sixth floor that people couldn’t find. It was old and run down, and we were looking for a more prominent site, a newer facility. These were things that we discussed but couldn’t make them happen. We needed somebody like Rich to put together a strategic plan and to justify because everything needs to be justified when you’re dealing with taxpayer money. How does this benefit the college? How does it benefit the students? How does it benefit the community? He took all those pieces and put them together into a cohesive plan that the college looked at and said yes,” explained Reiss.
Busalacchi also works collaboratively with the instructors, according to Reiss, and is open to ideas and suggestions. “It’s great he’s also really good with the students too. That’s always first and foremost. He has an open door policy. If students have problems or questions, anyone can go over there, meet with him and talk,” Reiss said.
“Dr. Busalacchi has been a really intricate part of the business program,” added Brian Moran, chef instructor. “We’ve had improvements in three different cooking labs in the college over the last three years. We’ve expanded the program and are offering more variety in culinary skills to the students. And just Rich’s enthusiasm and commitment to making this the best culinary school anywhere in Wisconsin is really where I think Rich has been proactive and important to our program.”
Busalacchi is involved in many events for the college and community that highlight the MATC Hospitality programs. “I recently started at MATC,” said Maria Peot, coordinator of college events, “and one of my first projects in this new role was working with Rich on the Gingerbread Parade of Houses with the Baking and Pastry Arts program. Rich was fantastic to work with. While giving me guidance on how things had been done in the past, he also allowed me to use my own experience and expertise to make the event a success. Rich was extremely appreciative of my work and I look forward to working with him on other events, such as the Five Star Food and Wine event!”
“Dr. Busalacchi is truly passionate about the MATC community and student development,” said Michael Clark, Culinary Management instructor. “He consistently gives 110 percent of himself, personally and professionally, to help students and faculty alike achieve their developmental goals.”
Clark noted that 11 programs at MATC relate to the hospitality field, and Busalacchi has been instrumental in making these programs and the facilities the best possible. “Additionally, he consistently demonstrates the fundamental principles within the industry, as he works relentlessly and tirelessly to provide the best campus food service and special events, statewide,” Clark said.
When asked how he felt about what he’s manifested with the new 6th Street Café and the changes to the award-winning program, Busalacchi is of a modest opinion, “It’s not all me,” Busalacchi said. “The faculty and staff that I work with have a shared vision. We can build the very best labs in the entire world, but if we don’t have the faculty to put into the labs, it’s meaningless, because you want to have the best experience and instruction in the entire world.”
When asked how he likes working with the students, he whole-heartedly said, “There’s just something about what we do at MATC and allowing students to reach their full potential. Not only from the workforce and getting people skilled but from a human standpoint, and in this case, we have the ability to work with students who never boiled water and want to be a chef and our job is, no matter what your level is, to turn you out to be the greatest chef that you can be,” he said. “The exciting thing is to see the students who walk in the door. I meet them when they walk in the door, and by the time they leave they’re just completely transformed.”
When asked if he ever saw himself as dean, he replied, “Things just happened that I didn’t expect to happen. I didn’t plan on working at MATC. But, it’s great! I’m able to do impactful things. When you’re with people who all want to go in the right direction, you create momentum and that’s what’s happened for me. I’m surrounded by a great group of folks. It’s been an interesting journey to be here. In Italian, it’s called, ‘Destino.’”