The Best...

Outdoor dining space I’ve eaten at
Last year when I was in Chicago I had the opportunity to dine outside at Big Star, the newest taco joint. It’s a former gas station that has been converted to serve as a restaurant. It’s the best because of the open-air feeling of sitting in a space where cars once came and went after fueling up. The outdoor dining space sits in a residential area, representing a neighborhood eatery. It’s a simple menu item served in a unique setting.
—Joanne Kinsey, director of school nutrition services, Chesapeake Public Schools, Chesapeake, Va.

Foodservice celebrity I’ve ever met
Janey Thornton, the deputy secretary of agriculture and a former president of the School Nutrition Association. To my knowledge she is the first school nutrition director ever appointed to deputy secretary.
—Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services, Collier County School District, Naples, Fla.

Restaurant experience I’ve ever learned from
I have worked in the foodservice industry since I was 15 as a dishwasher. I have worked my way through and up into all segments of the industry. In each case, the takeaway has all been the same: Taking care of the customers, providing a quality product and treating your employees with respect are consistent keys to success in any environment. When I first assumed the role as a school foodservice director 15 years ago, I noticed that non-commercial foodservice operations sometimes had a different expectation when it came to these core areas. Even in a non-commercial environment, the students (or patients, employees, residents, etc.) still need to be treated well and served a quality product by an educated and friendly staff.
—Steve Gallagher, director of child nutrition services  for Chartwells, Oklahoma City Public Schools, Oklahoma City

Design advice I’ve ever been given
“Make sure there is plenty of room at the beverage station.”
—Patti Oliver, director of nutrition services, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles

Retail concept I’ve visited
The original Dreamland Bar-b-que in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The only thing on the menu is ribs and they come with sauce and fresh white bread. The only other things that they sell are beer, soft drinks and chips. What I find interesting about the retail concept is that it is so simple. They do one thing and they do it well.
—Dexter Hancock, director of nutritional services, DCH Healthy System, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Disaster that turned into a teaching moment
Using negative publicity surrounding school meals to educate parents, students and the community on our healthy meals, regulations and benefits to participating in our meal program.
—Tanya Harter, director of nutrition services, Chico Unified School District, Chico, Calif.

Mistake I ever made
Teaching college-level hospitality management at the age of 24. I learned how much I still needed to learn about the hospitality industry—everything from a creative management skill set to accepting ongoing career growth opportunities.
—Steve Hammel, Dining Services Program Manager, U.S. Navy, San Diego

Cooking show I use for menu inspiration
I like “Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger” on the Food Network. She is a dietitian, but when she’s doing her shows she doesn’t come across as a dietitian. She tells you how to lighten things up but still have good flavor. In our hospital, we are really trying to get people to eat healthier, and her show gives me more ideas on things we can do in our cafeteria.
—Sandra Ray, production and conference dining manager, WakeMed Raleigh, Raleigh, N.C.

Employee appreciation program I’ve seen
We distributed employee rosters around the kitchen. Staff looked through them and wrote down positive comments about different coworkers. We consolidated the comments and put them into a certificate-style document and handed them out to each person near Valentine’s Day. It was a lot of fun to see all the positive virtues listed for ourselves and each other.
—Barbara Hartman, chief, nutrition and food services, Martinsburg VA Medical Center, Martinsburg, W.Va.

Healthy tweak we’ve made to a menu item
We stopped buying frozen cookie dough and started making our own and changed the recipe to have more whole-grain wheat flour. We are making a lot of roasted mixed vegetables instead of offering french fries. Even though we would bake the french fries, it still would contain more fat than our own roast vegetables.
—Peter Esposito, school nutrition director, Cape Elizabeth School Department, Cape Elizabeth, Maine