UTRGV Business Students Take

UTRGV business students take

first place in restaurant competition

By Letty Fernandez

EDINBURG – Three students representing the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at the UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship earned first place at the Restaurant Finance and Development Conference held Nov. 8-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The team of Andrea Garza, Paulina Martinez and Abelardo Villarreal earned first place in the “Restaurant of the Future” competition. Their restaurant concept, “Wonder,” was an immersive, multisensory culinary experience using augmented and virtual reality technology.

“Dining is a new experience on its own, and we wanted to take that and further develop it,” said Garza, a junior majoring in finance. “We wanted to combine technology, something that is constantly changing, with dining out. In our plan, the theme would constantly change every five weeks, preparing the food to match the theme and to keep customers engaged and wanting to come back.”

Their presentation impressed the judges so much it earned them the top prize. Of their concept, the judges said, “What distinguished the UTRGV student presentation was that it was innovative, followed a growing trend, and was very distinct from the other presentations in the boldness of their idea.”

Villarreal, a senior accounting major from Mission, said teamwork was key.

“We shared ideas and put them together in this futuristic restaurant we called Wonder,” he said. “Then we started rehearsing for the presentation. We never stopped rehearsing, even minutes before we presented to the judges.”

The competition required the students to develop or redesign a restaurant of the future by creating a short promotional video and PowerPoint, and to present their 10-minute pitch live on stage in front of a panel of judges. Then they had to answer questions from an audience of several hundred people.

Martinez, a senior from Mission majoring in hospitality and tourism, works in the restaurant industry while attending classes at UTRGV.

“Presenting for the judges was nerve-racking,” she said. “However, once we got started, everything flowed, and it showed how prepared we were. Attending a conference like this one definitely helped me as a student to broaden my horizons and be exposed to this type of professional life.”


Restaurant Finance and Development Conference is the largest gathering of restaurant owners, developers, financiers, franchise companies and operators, totaling more than 3,000 attendees. The students were invited to represent UTRGV in the intercollegiate restaurant brand development competition, where they competed against three other universities that have long-standing programs in hospitality.