‘Travel the world from your kitchen’

  Monday, January 11, 2021
  Around Campus, Awards and Recognitions

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV Hospitality and Tourism Management program is a little more than a year old, yet it continues to gain national attention. 

Four Hospitality and Tourism Management students competed in a national competition called “Redesigning the Restaurant of the Future,” hosted by Restaurant Finance Monitor, in November. The students were to create a new restaurant concept and major revitalization of existing ones.

Teams would present their ideas to a conference audience and answer questions from a panel of experts for judging. Each presentation would include elements of several items, such as brand strategy, operational plan, real estate location, marketing concepts and demographic profile.

For another element of the competition, the teams were to consider COVID-19 social distancing analysis, creating a concept in which customers would feel safe during a time of uncertainty, but still have a memorable experience.

The UTRGV team competing, called “Pronto,” consisted of:

  • Ace Palomero, graduate, Master of Business Administration, of Mission.  
  • Aniella Perez, graduate, Master of Business Administration, of McAllen. 
  • Abelardo Villarreal, senior, Accounting major, of Mission. 
  • Elia Juarez, senior, Hospitality and Tourism Management major, of Brownsville.

The competition had been scheduled to be hosted in Las Vegas, but due to pandemic travel restrictions, everything was done virtually. Presentations had to be prerecorded and submitted. The Q&A was the only element that would be live.

The Pronto team created a mobile app that would give users the chance to “experience the world from their kitchen.” The user would select any recipe inspired from any cuisine and would be able to order the ingredients and have everything delivered to their home. The app also gave the users access to videos and live sessions with chefs.

Elia Juarez said that since people were not able to travel and eat in restaurants due to the pandemic, the team’s focus was to offer an innovative way for people to feel safe and still be able to get that unique dining experience.

“We wanted our project to focus on ‘the experience’ and how easy it can be to have that in your own home,” she said. “Especially if you do it through an app, you don’t have to come in contact with many people and you don’t have to feel unsafe. You would get everything delivered to your home. You can experience the world from your house, from your kitchen.” 

The competing universities were UTRGV, Michigan State University, Florida International University, and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The winner of the competition was Florida International University.

"In their entirety, the judges found the student presenters to be highly intelligent, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and well prepared. I think the restaurant sector in general has some exciting new blood coming from these top hospitality programs,” said Brian Geraghty, with MUFG Restaurant Finance and a contest judge, about the competition in a Restaurant Finance Monitor release

The UTRGV students said they took away something from the competition that would benefit their future careers in hospitality and tourism. Knowing the industry was hit hard by the pandemic, the competition helped them think more about innovation and not be afraid to take chances.

Abelardo Villarreal said he encourages other students to start joining competitions. Even if they’re virtual, he said, the valuable lessons are still there.

“The competition required us to look for change in the restaurant industry during this pandemic. People aren’t traveling to other countries, but people still want to learn from other places and cultures. We made sure to implement that into our app with food,” he said. “This experience will help us in the future as we move forward with our careers.”

Aniella Perez said the competition helped her personally with her own confidence and being able to think outside the box.

“It taught me to be brave and innovative, maybe even one day opening up my own business,” she said. “Students shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there and get involved with these opportunities. It’ll help you with your confidence and career.”

Ace Palomero echoed his teammates in taking advantage of any opportunities that become available. He said it’s important to be able to start building a network and learning skills that can help the individual stand out.

“I think any student getting into their department or getting ready to graduate and go out into the workforce should focus on making themselves as marketable as possible and network while still in school,” he said. “This pandemic shows industries can change, can adapt to factors that are outside of anyone’s control. You just have to be ready to roll with the punches.” 

To learn more about the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, visit www.utrgv.edu/host/.    


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.