Chicago business provides made-from-scratch meals to local schools

Gourmet Gorilla sources from mostly Midwest vendors, including pasta from Wisconsin, meat from Michigan, organic vegetables from Growing Home and more.

CHICAGO—At first glance, Gourmet Gorilla's industrial kitchen in River North looks like any other, with oversized pots and pans, a whirl of aproned workers and rubber-matted floors. But check out the ingredients: Every weekday, founders Danielle Hrzic and Jason Weedon churn out 10,000 made-from-scratch meals for children in 90 Illinois and Wisconsin schools from locally grown, organic produce.

What's more, their business of providing family-style meals to school kids is part of a grander mission to bring the farm closer to the table by buying from urban growers.

The married couple had two inspirations. The first was urban farm pioneer Harry Rhodes, executive director of Growing Home, Chicago's first U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic farm. The other was the processed food their older son was served when he began preschool. The food coloring and preservatives were not what they wanted him to eat.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chicken and waffles

Our elementary menu is currently riding the breakfast-anytime advertising trend by offering Breakfast for Lunch every Tuesday. It ranks as our highest participation, and it was a great way for us to introduce chicken and waffles inspired by an IHOP dish.

Ideas and Innovation
dress code geeks

Team uniforms are a way we encourage fun. I tell the mangers that every person on your team needs to look like a member of your team, but they can decide together what they want to wear. When the students see a cafeteria person that is matching and having fun with their outfits, they relate to those people better. We don’t want them to look stiff and stuffy.

Menu Development
meatloaf slices plate

“This is the best meatloaf I’ve ever had,” a diner at Alcatel-Lucent telecommunications in Naperville, Ill., once told chef Iraj Fernando. The dish was rooted in a tried-and-true source—the “Betty Crocker Cookbook.”

“I just seasoned the breadcrumbs differently, used fresh parsley and beat the eggs to make them frothier,” says Fernando, executive chef and manager for Southern Foodservice Management.

Consumer interest is up for classic and comforting meat dishes like meatballs (16%), beef pot pie (26%) and meatloaf (12%) for dinner now compared to two years ago, shows...

Ideas and Innovation
oxford school district cafeteria

We have spent considerable money making cafeterias cool again. New paint jobs, crazy color patterns, custom graphics and changes in lighting schemes have made some of our cafes popular gathering places. We’ve also experimented with videos, cable TV programs and music. We involved a number of student groups and student input in improving the atmosphere, especially in our high school and middle school cafeterias.

FSD Resources