Student Spotlight: Ed Culleeney
Major: Culinary and Hospitality
Ed Culleeney attended College of DuPage in the mid-1980s and has been a member of the Lettuce Entertain You team since 1985. He has been integral to the development and management of such establishments as Gino's East, Hat Dance, and Nacional 27, and he currently is vice president of Ben Pao Chinese Restaurant in Chicago.
Culleeney served in the Air Force and was stationed in Italy, near where his grandparents had lived, and he picked up a love for the regional cuisine. After returning to the U.S., he worked at TGI Fridays and the Elmhurst Country Club before deciding that a degree in Foodservice Administration might be beneficial.
"I was taking classes at COD and putting in applications to work for Lettuce Entertain You," he explained. "I ended up getting a job while still going to school. It was difficult, because I was receiving my management schooling and on-the-job training at the same time. But it put everything into perspective. COD was the basis, because I gained so much knowledge about my industry."
At Lettuce, Culleeney started in an entry-level management position at Gino's East and worked his way up to general manager. He then moved to the Hat Dance, an upscale Mexican concept, which he ran for 11 years as general manager. After helping to open the A-1 Border Beanery, a Southwestern concert, he briefly returned to Hat Dance before being assigned to work on a new Asian concept. He traveled to Los Angeles and then to the Far East to learn as much about the cuisine as possible. As a result, Ben Pao successfully opened in 1996.
Three years later, Culleeney brought that same level of attention to Nacional 27, which not only is a full-service restaurant but a salsa night club on Friday and Saturday nights. After the successful launch, he returned to Ben Pao, which he continues to run.
The industry he was unsure about as a career has brought Culleeney great success.
"Hospitality is almost theatrical," he said. "It's like throwing a party. You open a restaurant and it's filled with people, and you're the host of the party. So it's like you're on stage. You're a performer, and you better deliver. The fun part of job is working the floor and meeting people."
Culleeney has never lost contact with COD, whether he serves in an advisory capacity on various projects or donates gift certificates for fundraising efforts. He was named the Hospitality Administration program's Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2010.
"COD was a wonderful base for me," he said. "I learned a tremendous amount and always felt proud that I went there. I'm very happy to be associated with this program and am always willing to help whenever they need it."