Larry Rice is your typical southern gentleman: He always offers a lady a seat, means what he says, speaks with a southern drawl, and loves down-home southern cooking.
A very comical character, he can dish jokes as well as he can take them. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he pauses, meditates deeply, and says in all earnesty, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who may have assisted you a little bit along the way. I think of myself as someone who was very fortunate and blessed in the opportunities that were given to him, and also as someone who recognized that it was important to provide those opportunities to others.”
Today, Rice, 38, is the dean of academic affairs at Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami campus. But before holding this prestigious position, among a long list of others, he was simply a southern boy who came from extremely humble beginnings in his Union, South Carolina hometown.
Rice grew up in a small town where “expectations of the high school boys there were to graduate, then stay and work at one of the textile mills or alumina plants,” he said of the main industries that helped to sustain the 9,000-population town.
Like all the other high school boys in Union, Rice was expected to become a grinder at Alcoa Conductor Accessories, a large alumina plant situated in the town.
Rice, however, wasn’t like all the other high school boys in Union.
Raised by his mother in a single-parent household with two siblings, he worked a very uncommon minimum of 25 hours per week (most other teens worked far fewer hours) and maintained a successful wrestling career in which he ranked number two in the state.
“Those experiences motivated me to see that there was more to life than growing up and working in a paper mill or textile plant,” he said.
At 16, while working as a chef at the town’s only chain restaurant, Quincy Family Steakhouse, Rice began to dream of opening his own restaurant.
When he moved to Florida 18 years ago, he combined that dream with his natural training ability and created his first private business, A-Chef-for-Hire, a training and consulting firm for the hospitality industry.
The business also allowed clients to hire a chef who would come to their homes to prepare dinner.
“There were a number of private chefs emerging at the time, but I wanted my chef’s business to be different,” he said. “I would prepare dinner meals for my clients and some would enjoy my services so much that I would become contracted to them. I can remember my first client was the retired minister of finance for Cuba.”
SCHOLAR AND GENTLEMAN
The southern gentleman is also a scholar, having earned his associate’s degree in culinary arts from the now-defunct Johnson & Wales University campus in Charleston, S.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and his master’s degree in food service and hotel management from Florida
International University. Later, he earned his doctorate in higher education from Nova Southeastern University.
Well on his way down the road to success, Rice was contracted by FIU to train volunteer chefs from the community for the university’s special events.
During that time, he realized that he enjoyed the training aspects of the business more than anything else, and wanted to take that as far as he could.
Rice remembered, “After JWU opened up a campus in Florida, someone said to me, ‘You really have a knack for this training thing. Maybe you should go over to JWU and see if you could teach.’ ”
And that he did. In 1994, he returned to the alma mater that had changed his life six years earlier, and followed a career path that led him to the position he has held for eight years.
“For me what was most special about JWU was that it provided something that was tangible and allows you to see the path of success in whatever industry,” he said. “A lot was made clear to me while I was a student there, and the possibilities of what can be done were solidified.”
Since joining Johnson & Wales, a university that is distinguished for its College of Culinary Arts, Rice has held several titles, including culinary instructor, assistant professor, chair of academic services, director of hotel externships, and now, dean of academic affairs. He oversees all faculty and operations of the administration of college academia.
His vision for the Florida campus is that the university will become a leader in student engagement. He would like for the system to engage the students and help them choose a career path from the point of admission.
“Students know what they want to do but they don’t know how to do it or how far they can go,” he said. “What we do is create systems with check points that would help them to realize the realistic possibilities of their career choice.”
Jordan Fickess, executive administrator at Johnson & Wales’ North Miami campus, said, “Larry's dedication to the university’s hands-on learning philosophy is what creates a competitive advantage for our students in the marketplace. He is a champion for one-on-one interaction between faculty and students, and encourages his faculty members to get to know our students’ interests and strengths to help them blossom into successful professionals.”
In reflecting upon his responsibilities as the dean of academic affairs, Rice said, “What drives me is the desire to give back and to be able to do more for students at JWU to make sure that each of them has the same experience that I had or better, because what I had – I loved. I want to be able to capture that and make sure that the university stays true to that.”
Shawn Lucas can attest to Rice’s desire to give back.
Lucas, a former student of Rice who is now corporate executive chef for Electrolux Professional North America, said, “Dr. Rice was the voice of reason when it came to making major decisions in my life. He was my advisor as a student and he continued to be my mentor well after graduation and into my professional career.”
Rice has worked as chair of the board for the Visitor Industry Council of Greater Miami and as a board member of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. In January 2007, Rice was elected to the board of directors for what was then the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. He has co-hosted the TV show “Leadership in the New Millennium,” a half-hour show that aired on Channel 36 in Miami-Dade County.
The author of two upcoming books on leadership and diversity, Rice has been featured in Miami Today, The National Black MBA magazine, Lodging Hospitality magazine, U.S. News & World Report, The Miami Times, the Black EOE Journal and South Florida CEO magazine. He was also honored at the South Florida Business Journal’s 2007 Up & Comers Awards as the winner in the professional services category.
Rice lives in Plantation with his wife, Claire Michele, and two daughters, Claire and Victoria.
He has nurtured a successful business with his wife, The Rice Consulting Group. The company conducts strategic planning for small businesses, management training, conflict resolution and mediation in the U.S., the Bahamas, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Rice’s wife, Claire Michele, said, “In opening up our businesses together, I have been able to rely upon his expertise and knowledge of the business and hospitality industries. Additionally, Larry is well connected with various organizations in the community and his understanding of how they do business is invaluable.”
She continued, “Irrespective of our audiences, Larry's charisma has come through in his manner of encouraging people to reach beyond their constraints to succeed.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Larry Rice