In a community rich in quality restaurant choices, it’s not easy to carve a niche, let alone stand out.

But Kelley Foy has done it before and she’s doing it again – this time as the manager and instructor for the reimagined café at the Yavapai College Verde Valley campus.

The new café, dubbed YCGC for YC Grilled Cheese, is uniquely a laboratory for aspiring culinary artists and entrepreneurs as well as a showcase for the vegetables and herbs that horticulture students cultivate in an one-campus greenhouse.

“In culinary school you learn a lot of things, but unless you have a restaurant on site you don’t get a chance to know what it’s like to operate one,” said Kelley, an accomplished chef and artist who has launched several successful restaurants.

Even while pursuing her passion for designing custom furniture and serving as the gelato chef for Merkin Vineyards in the Verde Valley, Kelley decided to tackle creating the teaching restaurant for YC because she loves cooking, loves teaching and believes hands-on experience is invaluable for students. “I’m drawn to teaching that involves actually doing the work at the same time,” Kelley said adding, “I want to be part of the direction the college is going” -- that is providing life-lifting career opportunities for individuals and strengthening our local economy.

Unlike many college dining facilities, YCGC excludes all things frozen and fried, instead offering signature grilled cheese and other specialty sandwiches and salads, coffee and pastries from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. YCGC’s student staff also cater college gatherings and events, including those hosted at the college’s teaching winery, the Southwest Wine Center.

Kelley and her students hope Verde Valley residents will discover the café and clientele will grow to a point where both the hours and the menu can expand. They have big plans for that eventuality, like marketing hand-crafted cheeses, artisan breads and pizzas, selling food whipped up by YC Culinary Arts students in the state-of-the-art Sedona Center kitchens and partnering with other local food growers.

Until then, Kelley is content to share her culinary wisdom and business acumen with the next generation of chefs and entrepreneurs. “It’s my hope that my influence as a teacher and the hands-on experience students receive will help them succeed,” she said.