The next generation of culinary professionals is cooking up Italian food in Allen in a surprising location: Called Blu Restaurant, it's a student café and teaching kitchen located inside Allen High School at the Performing Arts Center.

Blu has been around for 11 years in one form or another, usually under the tutorship of a credited chef. The current chef-in-charge is industry veteran Chad Pritchard, a Le Cordon Bleu culinary grad who has owned and operated restaurants in Dallas, Utah, and the Virgin Islands.

Pritchard was enchanted by the opportunity to teach, and took the reins in July. His influence can already be seen on ambitious menu items such as fresh-made pasta, braised lamb shanks, and branzino.

"Traditionally, student-run restaurants serve hamburgers and hot dogs," Pritchard says. "There’s not a lot of high-end, or even real culinary work being done."

Pritchard has instituted a curriculum based on the seven classic French techniques of cooking. (In case you’re wondering, that’s flambéing, searing, sautéing, pan-frying, poaching, broiling, grilling, and braising.) He's also established a baking program with classes on bread baking and desserts from scratch.

"We are doing things that quite frankly, a lot of restaurants aren’t even doing," he says. "We are baking our own bread. We make our own risotto. We make our own polenta."

The class consists of nine weeks of training, leading up to the restaurant's opening, which this semester took place on October 25. it'll remain open through the semester, close during the holidays, and reopen in January.

While the kitchen and facility are well-appointed, the actual staffing is small, consisting of Pritchard and only one other full-time employee, Alexandra Vrettos. The program has two other instructors who teach classes but are not hands-on in the restaurant.

Roughly 200 students are enrolled, rotating from kitchen duty to front-of-the house service. It's a rigorous program requiring a five-day-a-week commitment: deep cleanings on Monday, prep work on Tuesday, and lunch service Wednesday-Friday, from 11 am-1:30 pm. Prices range from $10 to $25, and all proceeds go back to the program.

The restaurant is open to the public, with walk-ins welcome and reservations required for large parties of 10 or more.

"We are an actual working restaurant, and we are also a classroom," Pritchard says over the hum of students in the background. At different points during this interview, he pauses to shout out "No running in the kitchen!" "Don’t sit on the table!" and "Button up your chef coat!"

The average age of the student cooks is 16; the oldest is 18.

“Sometimes we forget they are still kids, but we do have high expectations," he says. "They are doing the job as good or better as some cooks twice their age.”

He's a firm believer in the value of vocational/trades education.

"For so many kids, something like this can be much more important than social studies, math, or science," he says. "It’s training kids to be independent, hard working, successful adults. I’m pleased to be part of a program that trains kids to work in a trade that they can take with them for their whole lives."

Art Institute of Dallas

Art Institutes college chain shuts down all campuses, including Dallas

Education News

In tragic news for higher education, the Art Institutes, a network of colleges in eight cities around the U.S. including Dallas, is shutting down all campuses as of September 30.

The organization announced its closure with short notice on September 22 via an email sent out to staff and students, attributing the close to "external and internal" events over the past 10 years, including COVID-19.

They called the closure the result of "a culmination of events over the past decade, both external and internal to the campus operations. ... The colleges, which already were dealing with the legacy challenges that arose under prior ownership, were unable to absorb the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on schools teaching hands-on and equipment-intensive programs such as culinary arts and fashion design.”

Students were advised to review their contact information on the institute's portal and update mailing addresses if needed, as well as download their student ledger and unofficial transcript.

Academic and financial aid staff will be available on campus through the end of 2023.

"Due to the timing of this decision, The Art Institutes have not had sufficient time to engage with other colleges and universities in their respective markets to sign formal agreements for students to transfer and continue their studies elsewhere," they said in a statement. "The Art Institutes are working with state agencies and The Art Institutes' accrediting agency, Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to identify appropriate academic transfer opportunities for students affected by this closure."

The closures affect all of the remaining eight campuses:

  • Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Atlanta
  • The Art Institute of Austin, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
  • The Art Institute of Dallas, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Houston
  • The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
  • The Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta

Although the announcement was abrupt, the Atlanta campus had been listed for lease on September 5, according to CoStar.

At one point, the organization had dozens of campuses across the U.S., but in recent years had endured instability, including two changes in ownership since 2017 and legal troubles over student loans.

According to Higher Ed Dive, their troubles go back a decade to former owner, the for-profit Education Management Corp, who closed 15 locations before selling off the rest to the Dream Center Foundation, a faith-based organization that set it up as a nonprofit.

COVID also dealt a big blow, since many of their signature programs including culinary and fashion required in-person training.

The email further states that "The Art Institute colleges were once were part of one of the largest providers of career education in the U.S. and were an important source of design, media arts, fashion, and culinary professionals to fulfill the needs of the local and national employers who sought out Art Institute graduates. Since its founding, The Art Institutes, individually and collectively, provided an academic experience for students who sought education in academic disciplines based in creativity, innovation, and emerging technology. This closure does not diminish the many and varied contributions that The Art Institutes have made to higher education and the knowledge and skills that alumni have taken into their respective fields of culinary, design, fashion, and media following graduation."


Acclaimed sushi restaurant's closure leads this week's 5 most-read Dallas stories

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this long Labor Day weekend? Find that listhere.

1. One of Dallas' most highly rated sushi restaurants has closed. One of Dallas' top sushi restaurants is no more: Yutaka Sushi Bistro, the highly ranked sushi restaurant in Uptown Dallas, closed in August, after 17 years.

2. The second Portillo's in Texas preps hot dogs for big opening in Allen. Allen resident can hot dog it over to Portillo’s, the fast-casual restaurant concept known for Chicago street food, because the opening date for the new location in Allen at 1955 Central Expwy. is near: Thursday, September 7, at 10:30 am.

3. 3 dynamic Dallas high schools rank among top 25 in America, says U.S. News. Three Dallas high schools are continuing their A+ streak of appearances on a prestigious annual list of the country's best public high schools. One has inched closer to the very top.

4. Dallas-based JSX introduces breezy hop-on flights to the Bahamas this winter. Christmas cocktails in the Caribbean? Yes, please, Santa. Dallas-based semiprivate jet service JSX is introducing its first-ever seasonal flights to The Bahamas beginning December 14. Meaning: a few more months to make the "nice" list.

5. Restaurant in Dallas' Lakewood closes despite crowd-pleasing hours and brunch. A popular brunch spot in Dallas' Lakewood neighborhood has closed: Buzzbrews Kitchen, the local chain of diner-style restaurants that specializes in both breakfast and late-night hours, has closed its location at 5815 Live Oak St. at the intersection of Skillman.

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3 dynamic Dallas high schools rank among top 25 in America, says U.S. News

superior schools

Three Dallas high schools are continuing their A+ streak of appearances on a prestigious annual list of the country's best public high schools. One has inched closer to the very top.

The 2023 rankings from U.S. News & World Report, released August 29, put Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted at No. 6 nationally (up from No. 8 last year) among the country’s best high schools. The school also ranks No. 8 nationally among the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) high schools for the second consecutive year and No. 2 among the best magnet high schools (up from No. 4 last year).

Not far behind are two other Dallas ISD high schools.

Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Schoolranks No. 18 nationally among the best high schools (up from No. 20 last year) and No. 8 nationally among the best magnet high schools for the second consecutive year.

Science and Engineering Magnet Schoolcomes in No. 23 nationally among the best high schools (down from No. 22 last year), No. 24 nationally among the best STEM high schools (down from No. 7 last year), and No. 2 nationally among the best magnet high schools (up from No. 10 in 2022).

Topping the national list for 2023 is the Early College at Guilford in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Each year, U.S. News evaluates about 18,000 high schools on six factors: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth, and graduation rates.

"Having access to a strong high school program is paramount for students as they face an ever-changing world," says U.S. News' managing editor of education Liana Loewus in a release. "Making data on our high schools available helps parents ensure their child is in the educational environment that best sets them up to thrive."

Elsewhere in Texas
Around the state, these Texas high schools also made it into the top 100 nationally (including two more Dallas schools):

  • Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy, No. 32 (up from No. 34 last year and No. 41 in 2021). No. 34 nationally among the best STEM high schools (up from No. 70 in 2022).
  • Houston ISD’s Carnegie Vanguard High School, No. 35 (up from No. 40 last year and No. 42 in 2021).
  • Houston ISD’s DeBakey High School for Health Professions, No. 66 (down from No. 50 last year and No. 46 in 2021). No. 18 nationally among the best magnet high schools.
  • BASIS San Antonio - Shavano Campus, No. 81 (down from No. 77 last year and No. 102 in 2021). No. 41 nationally among the best STEM high schools (down from No. 25 in 2022) and No. 17 nationally among the best charter high schools.
  • Dallas ISD's Trinidad Garza Early College at Mt. View, No. 91 (up from No. 118 last year).
  • Dallas ISD’s Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet, No. 93 (down from No. 48 last year and No. 59 in 2021) . No. 25 nationally among the best magnet high schools (down from No. 17 in 2022).
  • Houston ISD's Young Women's College Prep Academy, No. 94 (up from No. 148 last year). No. 26 nationally among best magnet high schools.

When broken down just to Texas schools, Dallas' School for the Talented and Gifted, Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School, and Science and Engineering Magnet School are the top-rated public high schools in Texas this year, U.S. News says.

Other Dallas-Fort Worth schools that rank among Texas' 100 best are:

  • No. 8 – Trinidad Garza Early College at Mt. View, Dallas ISD
  • No. 9 – Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet, Dallas ISD
  • No. 17 – Uplift Education-North Hills Prep High School, Uplift Education School District, Irving
  • No. 18 – School of Health Professions, Dallas ISD
  • No. 23 – Young Women's Leadership Academy, Fort Worth ISD
  • No. 27 – Westlake Academy, Westlake
  • No. 28 – Grand Prairie Collegiate Institute, Grand Prairie ISD
  • No. 30 – Highland Park High School, Highland Park ISD
  • No. 34 – Imagine International Academy of North Texas, McKinney
  • No. 35 – Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy, Grand Prairie ISD
  • No. 36 – Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School, Dallas ISD
  • No. 43 – Booker T. Washington SPVA, Dallas ISD
  • No. 45 – Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Dallas ISD
  • No. 47 – Lovejoy High School, Lovejoy ISD, Lucas
  • No. 50 – Reedy High School, Frisco ISD
  • No. 51 – World Languages Institute, Fort Worth
  • No. 55 – Wakeland High School, Frisco ISD
  • No. 60 – Liberty High School, Frisco ISD
  • No. 62 – Rosie Sorrells Education and Social Services High School, Dallas ISD
  • No. 63 – Young Women's Leadership Academy at Arnold, Grand Prairie ISD
  • No. 67 – School of Business and Management, Dallas ISD
  • No. 71 – Cedar Hill Collegiate High School, Cedar Hill ISD
  • No. 74 – Uplift Summit International High School, Uplift Education School District, Arlington
  • No. 76 – Centennial High School, Frisco ISD
  • No. 78 – Coppell High School, Coppell ISD
  • No. 80 – Mansfield Frontier High School, Mansfield ISD
  • No. 87 – Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, Fort Worth ISD
  • No. 92 – Independence High School, Frisco ISD
  • No. 94 – Founders Classical Academy, Texas College Preparatory Academies, Lewisville
Photo courtesy of Visit Frisco

Frisco parents can now watch student athletes on new NBC Sports platform

Sports for the Masses

Parents and students involved with Frisco ISD athletics will soon be able to stream district sporting events thanks to a partnership with NBC Sports Next’s SportsEngine youth sports technology platform.

According to a release, the new, multi-year partnership names SportsEngine as the “exclusive streaming and video partner” of FISD. The Frisco Sports Live web portal will provide streaming of approximately 4,000 sporting events annually for all 12 high schools and 18 middle schools, accessible on computers and other internet-connected devices.

SportsEngine’s video tools will be available to FISD’s more than 12,000 athletes and their families, providing them with live streaming, video-on-demand, game highlights, and more.

“We’re thrilled to expand this foundational partnership with Frisco ISD to provide its athletes, teams, families, and fans unprecedented video coverage across all sports,” says NBC Sports Next SVP Brett MacKinnon in a statement. “Frisco ISD and its athletic department are industry leaders and we share in their vision and commitment to supporting and growing each and every athlete in the district.”

SportsEngine has installed cameras at all Frisco ISD high school athletic facilities, including outdoor fields, gymnasiums, and baseball and softball diamonds, as well as swimming facilities. Cameras also have been installed in middle school gymnasiums, as well as any additional school facilities agreed upon by the two parties.

The site's video editing tools will also allow athletes to create their own customized highlight reels, and coaches and school administrators to make sports education and training videos.

“We’re excited that our students’ performances and achievements will be showcased on the SportsEngine platform and how it will add to the experience of participants, families, and fans throughout the district and beyond,” said FISD Athletic Director Jerry Littlejohn in a statement.

Viewers can now subscribe to Frisco Sports Live to see FISD sporting events for the 2023-24 school year, as well as select events from the 2022-23 school year. The service is free for its base level, which allows users to live stream games and upload highlights.

Users can pay $200 per year for a subscription that gives access to ad-free streams, live game replays, on-demand viewing, and more; to celebrate the launch of the network, SportsEngine is offering 40 percent off at SportsEnginePlay.com.

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9 essential things to know about Texas' tax-free weekend 2023

tax free weekend guide

For kids, stocking up on school supplies is one of the only joys of going back to school. For parents who have to pay for them, not so much: Americans are expected to spend nearly $600 per child on backpacks, sneakers, calculators, and more this back-to-school season. Texas' tax-free weekend helps ease the burden some.

This year's "sales tax holiday" - when shoppers can save about $8 for every $100 spent on qualifying items - takes place Friday, August 11 through Sunday, August 13 (at midnight). Note that it's a week later than it has been in past years, and after some schools go back to class.

To yield the best bang for your buck, here are nine top tips and essential things to know about tax-free weekend 2023:

What school supplies qualify for the tax exemption?
There is a specific list of school supplies that are tax free during the weekend, but they have to be priced at under $100 (most are, as long as the customer not buying in bulk). The school supplies that qualify for the tax exemption are:

  • Binders
  • Blackboard chalk
  • Book bags and lunch boxes
  • Calculators
  • Cellophane tape
  • Compasses, protractors, and rulers
  • Composition books, legal pads, and notebooks
  • Folders – including expandable, pocket, plastic, and manila folders
  • Glue, paste, and glue sticks
  • Pencils, pencil sharpeners, pens, highlighters, markers, dry erase markers, crayons, and erasers
  • Index cards and index card boxes
  • Paper – including loose leaf ruled notebook paper, copy paper, graph paper, tracing paper, manila paper, colored paper, construction paper, and poster board
  • Pencil boxes and other school supply boxes
  • Scissors
  • Writing tablets

What about school supply kits? Do they qualify?
There is no limit on the number of school supplies in kits, but certain kits that contain both taxable and tax-free items will have a taxability that depends on the value of the items. According to the Texas Comptroller, if the value of the exempt items is worth more than the taxable items, the kit will be tax free. However, if the value of the taxable items comes out to more than the exempt items, then the kit will be taxed.

What clothing items qualify for the tax-free exemption?
Most footwear and clothing items that are sold for less than $100 are exempt from tax. There is no limit on the number of qualifying items a customer can buy, as long as they ring up for under the $100 price tag. (Sorry, parents of athletes, most sports shoes and gear aren't eligible; see below.)

An example given from the Texas Comptroller's website is that a person shopping in-store can purchase two shirts for $80 each while still qualifying for the exemption despite the total purchase price coming out to $160.

What other items are eligible to be tax-free?
Cloth and disposable fabric face masks (including those which are sold with a filter); student backpacks that are sold for less than $100 (including those with wheels and messenger bags). If a shopper is purchasing more than 10 backpacks tax-free at one time, they will have to present the seller with an exemption certificate.

A full list of qualifying items (and taxable ones) can be found on the Comptroller's website.

What doesn't qualify for the tax-free exemption?
Despite a long list of general footwear and clothing items that fall under the tax-free weekend umbrella, there are certain items that are still taxable, including:

  • Specific protective athletic shoes or clothing, such as cleats, shoulder pads, dance shoes, helmets, shin guards, and others
  • Industrial or medical grade face masks (such as N95s or others that are primarily used as PPE), and replacement face mask filters
  • Clothing subscription boxes
  • Clothing or footwear rentals, alterations, embroidery, and cleaning services
  • Fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, and other items that are typically used to repair clothing
  • Accessories like jewelry, handbags, umbrellas, watches, wallets, and more
  • Computers, computer bags, and software
  • Textbooks
  • Baggage items like framed backpacks, luggage, briefcases, purses, and athletic/gym bags
  • Any unspecified school supplies that are NOT on the exemption list above

Where can customers shop and save during tax-free weekend?
Purchases can be made in store, as well as online, over the phone, through the mail, and through custom orders. It only matters that the purchase of the item take place between August 11-13.

Does the cost of shipping affect taxability?
Yes it does - the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has deemed a seller's delivery, shipping, handling, and transportation charges as part of an item's sale price if a person is not shopping in-store. An example provided by the Comptroller's website is as follows: "You buy a pair of jeans for $95 with a $10 delivery charge for a total price of $105. Because the jeans’ total price is more than $100, tax is due on the entire $105 price."

What happens if a shopper bought a tax-exempt item during the weekend that was taxed anyway?
The customer would have to request a refund from the seller on the tax paid for the item. The seller can grant the refund to the buyer, or provide them with Form 00-985, Assignment to Right to Refund, which would allow the customer to file a claim for their refund through the Comptroller's website.

Can a customer get a rain check for a qualifying item during the tax-free weekend?
No, any rain check given during the tax-free weekend does not qualify the item for exemption.

More information about tax-free weekend can be found on the Texas Comptroller's website.

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Universal theme park in Frisco will be a first-of-its-kind Kids Resort

Theme Park News

The big splashy theme park coming to Frisco has a name and identity: Called Universal Kids Resort, it's from Universal Destinations & Experiences, a division of Comcast NBCUniversal, and is the company's first-ever theme park designed specifically for families with young children.

Previously described as a "family-friendly" concept, it's doubling down on the "kids" element, vowing to bring an innovative style of storytelling to a new, younger audience. So, more Disney-ish.

According to a release, Universal Kids Resort will include a theme park featuring immersive themed lands that bring Universal's characters and stories to life in ways that will wow the youngest theme parkgoers.

It will feature family-friendly attractions, interactive and playful shows, unique merchandise, fun food and beverage venues, and character meet & greets.

A resort area will include a 300-room themed hotel, giving families a place to stay and to play.

"Universal Kids Resort will inspire the unbridled creativity of kids through imagination, discovery and most importantly – play," says Universal Creative president Molly Murphy in a statement. "We're designing the resort so kids and families can feel the thrill of being physically immersed in their most beloved stories and characters."

It'll be set in green landscape with a distinctive look, feel, and scale specifically for younger kids. Progress on the new concept is underway, following a groundbreaking in November. With more details about Universal Kids Resort to come.

Crooner Michael Bublé to make appearance in Dallas for his new whiskey

Less burn, more Bublé

Crooner Michael Bublé has made a career using his voice to enchant millions of fans, but he'll be using his voice in a different way when he stops in Dallas on December 6 in support of a new whiskey he's released.

Called Fraser & Thompson, it's a North American whiskey launched in 2023 by Bublé and his partner Paul Cirka, a Master Distiller and Blender with a goal to create an aromatic and approachable new-to-world whiskey.

Bublé will be at Spec’s Wines & Spirits at 9500 N. Central Expwy. on December 6 from 4-5 pm.

According to a release, he’ll be at the brand’s "Easy, Now" lounge experience (IE, the events space at Spec's), where consumers over 21 can try samples.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early in order to ensure they are able to meet Bublé during the allotted time.

Retailing for $29.99 with the catch phrase, "Less burn, more Bublé," the whiskey is so new that its website is still under construction.

The release describes it as having sweet fig and blood orange on the nose, with a subtle finish of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of spice.

“Michael and I bonded over our shared passion for whisky, and wanted to create a blend that was flavorful but more light-hearted than the category at large can be known for," says Fraser & Thompson co-founder Cirka.

According to Bublé, the name Fraser Thompson references a location in his hometown Canada.

"I spent many summers with my grandfather at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson rivers in British Columbia," Bublé says. "When I heard Paul’s vision for creating a new kind of whiskey, I knew instantly what I wanted to call it. For the last three years, we worked together to perfect a whiskey blend that is equally elegant and approachable."

Bublé, of course, is doing just fine, even before making the jump into the celebrity liquor game. He's released 11 albums in his 20+ year singing career, selling millions of albums and almost singlehandedly reviving the jazz standards genre.

He's also not new to the beverage world, having partnered with Pepsi on a series of amusing commercials for their Bubly sparkling water.

2 freeway shutdowns this weekend in northeast Dallas of I-635 and US-75

Freeway News

Drivers in northeast Dallas, take note: A portion of I-635 will be closed in all directions and it's happening this weekend.

As part of the continuous I-635E improvement project, there will be major impacts to traffic on the interstate and cross streets throughout this weekend.

All lanes along eastbound and westbound I-635E between Abrams Road and Forest Lane will be closed beginning Saturday evening, December 2 at 8 pm through Sunday morning, December 3 at 12 pm.

Drivers will be detoured to the frontage roads to access the next available entrance ramp onto the mainlanes.

Both directions of Abrams Road and Forest Lane cross street bridges at I-635E will be closed during this time, as well.

Traffic will be detoured through the alternate streets: Abrams Road, Audelia Road, Royal Lane, and Walnut Street.

All lanes along Markville Drive at the eastbound I-635 frontage road will also be closed. Drivers will be detoured to Greenville Avenue and Royal Lane to access the next entrance ramp.

Drivers should expect delays, seek alternate routes or plan for extra travel time. All scheduled work and closures are subject to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

US 75 closure
In the same weekend, all lanes of southbound US 75 will be closed at the I-635 junction on Saturday, December 3 at 9 pm until Monday, December 4 at 5 am, for a sign maintenance project. Traffic can detour onto the southbound US 75 frontage road to go around this closure. There will still be access to I-635 during this time. Plan ahead for extra travel time or seek an alternate route.

For additional information related to the 635 East Project, visit www.635east.com.