RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Three UTRGV students received first place at the Restaurant C. Cackar College Development Conference that was held on Nov. 8 – 10 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The team consisted of Andrea Garza, Paulina Martinez and Abelardo Villarreal, as they represented the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at UTRGV.

Their restaurant concept “Wonder” received first place in the “Restaurant of the Future” competition, according to a press release from UTRGV.

Their concept features an “immersive, multisensory culinary experience using augmented and virtual reality technology,” the release stated.

Villarreal, a senior accounting major from Mission, said they prepared heavily for the presentation.

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

Garza, a senior majoring in finance, spoke about the origins of their concept.

“Dining is a new experience on its own, and we wanted to take that and further develop it,” said Garza in the release. “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.”

Martinez, a senior majoring in hospitality in tourism, said participating in this conference will help him from a career-standpoint.

“Presenting for the judges was nerve-wracking,” Martinez said in the release. “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.”

The students were invited to represent UTRGV at the conference, where they competed against three other universities that have long-standing programs in hospitality.

The Restaurant Finance and Development Conference is the “largest gathering of restaurant owners, developers, financiers, franchise companies and operators.”