Food Studies Program

In the Spotlight: Food Studies Professor Richard Bilodeau

Putting the Tea in Teaching

Richard Bilodeau


How did you get interested in food studies?
Growing up my father owned a restaurant. I started working there in the 8th grade and held every position from dishwasher to prep cook to accountant. Later in life, I started a consulting practice and many of my clients have come from the food industries, ranging from a manufacturer of organic soda to the producer of a Bloody Mary mix to a high-end French bistro to a gourmet chocolate exporter. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I love the vibrant food scene in my two homes, Portland, ME, and Montreal.

Why do you think this issue is important?
In the School of Business, I teach courses in entrepreneurship and business sustainability. In my sustainability class we often talk about food waste and scarcity, and the host of social and environmental issues related to our food systems. In my entrepreneurship class we discuss the ways new ventures start and restaurants often provide good insights into the issues a startup faces in establishing cash flow and a growing customer base. And we all need food to live, so issues impacting food impact everyone.

How did your career path lead you to this field?
My consulting practice has afforded me the opportunity to work with a couple of dozen food business over the years. And I’ve helped many student entrepreneurs explore food businesses after graduation. When Professor Hillard approached me to discuss a role in developing the entrepreneurship and business track in the Food Studies Program, I enthusiastically said yes!

What excites you about USM’s new Food Studies Program?
I really enjoy the energy of our students, and I get to work with a great bunch of faculty. Everyone involved in the program is passionate about their work, and they bring a real sense of positive energy and movement to it. I’ve had the pleasure of team-teaching with Professor Picardy on some consumer marketing and environmental issues related to food systems and I have really enjoyed the collaboration.

What advice do you have for students who want to work in food-related fields?
Students should recognize that the food industries are vast. From restaurants to agriculture to food development and social policy, there are lots of options. In my field, I like to remind students that starting restaurants and bars can be very hard work, and that the work is often not as profitable as you might think. And these types of businesses have a high rate of failure. But if done well, restaurants and bars can really work. And I believe all students should have a basic understanding of marketing and how a business operates.

What’s a fun fact about you?
Fun Fact #1: I am a tea enthusiast. According to my tea journal, I've tried over 100 different kinds of tea to date! My current favorites are White Earl Grey and Hibiscus Ginger. Fun Fact #2: I’ve been on three food tours of Italy!

What issues are you excited about teaching in your classes?
I’m excited to be teaching about the process of developing an idea, investigating the opportunity of the idea, and then creating a roadmap and story to bring that opportunity to the market. In addition, I enjoy teaching sustainable business to help students understand how to balance financial responsibility with social and environmental responsibilities, a very important aspect of food business today.

What kinds of skills are your students gaining that they can apply to the field and their lives in general?
Students are learning how to start, develop, and run sustainable businesses in the food industries!

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