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A Dream Becomes Reality: Annamaria’s Story

Annamaria Esplen, BTC culinary arts alum and owner of Anna’s Sunrise Café and Catering at UPMC’s South Hills.

Since she was a young girl, Bidwell Training Center (BTC) alumna Annamaria Esplen has always had a love for cooking and a passion for planning parties. Annamaria recalls “Over the years, everyone told me that I should be a caterer or open a restaurant.”

However, Annamaria’s path didn’t lead her to BTC right away.

“After high school, I went to college for a year,” said Annamaria. “I came home and took a summer job with a small fastener distributor.”

Annamaria worked 32 years for that company and learned all aspects of the business. She spent 15 years working in purchasing and then moved on to sales. She held a dual role as an in-house buyer and sales representative for one of the company’s largest customers.

Thirty-two years later, the company was sold, so she decided to move on and make her earlier dream of owning a restaurant come true.

“Twenty-five years ago, I brought my stepdaughter to tour BTC,” said Annamaria. “At that time, I fell in love with the culinary department, but unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right. At this point in my life, I knew I needed to attend BTC to help me become successful in my next adventure.”

BTC’s culinary arts program enabled Annamaria with the push she needed to open her own catering business.

“With what I learned and experienced through the classes, kitchen time, and volunteering for as many events as possible,” Annamaria explained, “it helped me grow; gave me the opportunity and confidence that I needed to move forward with my plans.”

Annamaria in Bidwell Training Center’s culinary amphitheater during her time as a student.

Since graduating from BTC in February 2019, Annamaria has opened Anna’s Sunrise Café and Catering at UPMC’s South Hills location. The Café is a small, open-air space that serves the medical and building staff and patients. As Annamaria’s business continues to grow, she is finalizing the details to open a second location.

She has now taken the next steps to pay it forward, joining the American Culinary Federation Pittsburgh Chapter and serving on the BTC Culinary Arts advisory board.

When asked what she would say to someone who is considering BTC, Annamaria exclaimed, “Do it! Open your mind, take the time to take on new challenges, and gain new opportunities. Everyone is there to help you succeed and improve your life.”