CONWAY — White Mountains Community College’s Workforce Development Office recently partnered with Veno’s Specialty Foods and Meats of Conway to train nine of that business' employees in organizational effectiveness and customer service.
The four training sessions focused on elevating service, fundamentals of management and leadership, and assisted a discussion on strategic goals. They concluded Nov. 29 and
“It was a great experience,” said Kendra Veno, a Mount Washington Valley native who opened her specialty foods and meats store with husband Jason Veno four years ago and who is a graduate of the Balsams Culinary Apprenticeship Program.
After culinary school, Chef Veno worked at The Ritz Carlton in Cleveland for three years, and then was an opening team member at Classic’s Restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel also in Cleveland.
She ran the culinary program at the Mount Washington Valley Career Technical Center for three years.
Her husband Jason is a regional rep for Amoskeag Beverages of Bow. They have two children.
Veno said she felt it was important to develop ways to improve the company’s training process for its team of 10 employees (which increases to 14 during the summer).
“As we have grown, my role has evolved," said Kendra. "I started doing the meat cutting and the cooking and there was a need to train our team. I tell them that with every meal we sell, I see that person enjoying our food at the dinner table with their family — so it is a matter of how do I get across that we sell more than food, we sell the experience."
The first workshop focused on “The Big Picture: Context and Environment.” The second worked on basic communication skills. The third was devoted to interpersonal skills, and the fourth was on continuous improvement (building confidence, exceeding expectations and developing analytical thinking, etc.).
Kendra met first with Tamara Roberge, coordinator for workforce development and community education of White Mountains Community College of Berlin, with satellite campuses in North Conway and Littleton.
Roberge and Veno had discussed the program after meeting at a public event a few years ago, and Veno followed up this year, thinking the time was right as the business has grown.
“We work with a lot of businesses here in the northern part of the state,” said Roberge. “Often we hear that employers are having difficulty in recruiting new employees, and they want to grow their incumbent employees into managers and leaders in the company. Through this program, employers are embracing a training and mentoring environment to grow and promote their employees.”
Roberge matched Kendra with instructor Fred King of Colebrook, a former corporate management veteran who teaches small business management at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.
Roberge also advised Veno to apply for a 50 percent reimbursement through the New Hampshire Office of Employment Security’s WorkInvestNH program.
That reduced the cost from $300 per person to $150 per person.
According to the N.H. Office of Employment Security website (nhes.nh.gov/services), the WorkInvestNH program is open to businesses who pay quarterly taxes into the N.H. Unemployment Trust Fund.
“The program was brought over to the New Hampshire Office of Employment Security in 2020 from the former Department of Resources and Economic Development when DRED was split up in 2019, and for a time it was under the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs before being brought to our office in 2020,” said Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner of the state Office of Employment Security.
He said in 2020 and 2021, a total of 117 employers have taken advantage of the program, 40 percent of which employed fewer than 50 employees.
“WorkInvestNH is a valuable program because we want to encourage more employers to invest in their employees, and this is a great way to provide greater training at less cost,” Lavers shared.
He said his office encourages employers to work with WMCC and other community colleges whenever possible on employee training programs.
“When employers do come, in we encourage them t have a conversation with a local community college as it may allow them to lower the cost of the training but it is up to the employer,” said Lavers.
Working with Roberge and King, the sessions for Veno’s Specialty Foods and Meats were held on a flexible basis that started last spring and were interspersed into the fall at White Mountains Community College’s North Conway satellite campus.
Veno’s closed its store in Conway for the four three-hour sessions.
Kendra said the training exercises will help Veno’s as it continues to grow, and added she would “definitely recommend it” to other businesses looking to refine their mission and making sure their employees are on board.
“How best to serve our customers is our goal, so it’s a matter of training our team to know how to read those customers, know their needs and have them leave knowing they have purchased a valuable product,” said Kendra.
“We feel completely embraced by the community … I am so lucky with my staff — I say my manager Brittany Burke is my ‘sister by choice,’ and I could not ask for a better partner other than my husband," she noted.
Seaking of her spouse, Kendra said: “I needed a partner who would understand how much I love culinary. If he had not agreed with me about what I wanted to do here with this business, Veno’s would not exist. And I would not be the person who I am without having him in my corner.”
She said she and Burke will upgrade their in-house training manual based on what they developed in the WMCC sessions with King.
Participating in the program along with Kendra and Burke were Ben McPherson, Andy Manning, Jessica Whitelaw, Noah Brown, Meghan McDermott, Linda “Lulu” Pippin and Chance Bosquet.
Located at 715 White Mountain Highway in Conway, Veno’s is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. For further information, call (603) 662-0615 or go to venosnh.com.
For more about White Mountains Community College’s business consulting program, go to ccsnh.edu or call (603) 342-3062.