Art Dunham: Savvy businessman

Dunham has transformed dining services by building a production center for cold food prep.

At a Glance

  • 103,646 enrollment
  • $58 million annual budget
  • 52,416 lunches served per day

Accomplishments

Art Dunham has improved foodservice in Pinellas County Schools by:

  • Using palm scanner technology to identify students and get them through meal lines more quickly
  • Using excess funds to create a smoothie program that has increased students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Opening a dinner program that serves nearly 7,000 students a month
  • Building a production center for cold food prep that has enhanced the district’s after-school snack program and will aid its summer feeding program

Another popular smoothie that is vegetable based is the Green Monster, which combines frozen spinach with apple juice and sour apple flavoring. In all, the smoothie menu now has 25 flavors, rotating on a regular basis.

The smoothie program isn’t the only way Dunham and his team have found to use up its fund surplus. For example, the district also has built a 3,500-square foot freezer, which is designed to help the district take advantage of “opportunity buys,” when vendors have excess product they need to get rid of. 

Dunham was able to make use of the freezer almost immediately when an area farmer had an overabundance of strawberry purée.

“He needed to get rid of it in anticipation of a new crop, and we were able to purchase it and do strawberry shortcake that met our nutritional guidelines at half the cost it normally would,” he explains. “So the freezer is another way we can keep our food cost lower.”

In August, the department also opened a small production center adjacent to the central office, where cold foods such as sandwiches and salads are prepared and shipped to 70 elementary schools. The center uses ozone technology—ozone diluted in water—to wash produce in order to rid it of pesticide residue and harmful bacteria.

In addition to providing components for elementary school lunches, the production center also supplies items for the district’s after-school program and a new dinner program. 

The dinner program, which started in October, is another example of Pinellas County being ahead of the curve. The meals, currently offered in 32 schools, are free to any child who wants one, and parents are invited to share in the meal at a price of $3.50.

“This program was created because Pinellas County hasn’t quite recovered from the economic downturn of 2008,” Dunham explains. “The unemployment rate is still 9% or 10%, and a lot of people who are working are in entry-level jobs, and no one believes they are going home at night and preparing dinner.”

In the program’s first month, 5,800 students were served, and in November the number had climbed to 6,700. 

Vending and more

In its efforts to ensure that more students have access to nutritious foods, the department also has turned to vending machines. Dunham added machines in all 16 high schools that sell reimbursable breakfasts and lunches. Students enter their birth date and their student ID number to receive their meals, and the district gets credit for the meal. Students can also pay cash, but those meals are not part of the reimbursable count.

“The vending machines have attracted students who don’t want to wait in a cafeteria line, especially in the mornings, when they might not feel like interacting with other humans,” Dunham says. 

In part because of the vending option, Pinellas County Schools has seen breakfast participation grow from 18,000 to more than 22,000.

Other technology the district is making use of includes the installation of flat-screen monitors in cafeterias that display the day’s menus and nutrition information and a mobile app for smartphones that allows parents to see school menus on a daily basis. 

But even as Dunham embraces the technological aspects of foodservice, he has concerns about the human element.

“Students have to have access to the program,” he notes. “What keeps me up at night are administrative rules and people who don’t understand food or even understand students. They try to whisk students through lunch in less time than it takes you to fill up at the gas station. They don’t pay attention to students’ needs. They just see a crowd of people and they try to move them from one place to another.

“Students get hungry, especially the younger ones,” he adds. “That has to be recognized by administrators. We can provide perfect menus and all the fruits and vegetables children need, but if they don’t have time or ways to access them, we’re still going to have problems.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
kids students cafeteria line

While summer feeding programs are commonplace in school districts across the country, foodservice operators still struggle to get the word out and kids in.

Many districts are scaling back or discontinuing their summer feeding programs due to low participation, citing staffing costs and other issues that make it difficult to break even and provide a profitable program.

“We need to find a way to encourage that participation,” Tom Freitas—foodservice director for Traverse City Area Public Schools in Traverse City, Mich.—told Record Eagle News . “We are open to ideas as long as...

Industry News & Opinion

Students and union representatives are petitioning Eastern Michigan University’s plan to outsource its foodservice operations, calling for the school to delay such a move to allow for further discussion with stakeholders, MLive reports .

EMU last week announced a tentative agreement to hand over its residential, catering and retail foodservices to Chartwells, a deal the university’s interim president avered would enable the school to expand and upgrade its eateries while maintaining high food quality, MLive says.

Opponents of the plan say they are concerned about what they...

Sponsored Content
whole grain pasta foodservice menu

From Barilla.

With younger consumers eager to explore new flavors and better-for-you options, whole-grain pasta is winning greater acceptance in American diets.

As more and more college and university students seek out whole grains in their meals, dishes featuring whole grains are on-deck to become menu mainstays.

At the University of Iowa, whole-grain foods have won general acceptance, says Barry Greenberg, executive chef for university dining. Two marketplace dining facilities on campus offer whole-grain pasta as a regular option and incorporate it into baked...

Managing Your Business
woman awake

Summer is no idle time for foodservice directors working at colleges and universities: They’re planning for the futures of their programs. Operators in FoodService Director magazine’s 2016 College and University Census reported an average 16,000-plus students at their schools. During a recent summit FSD hosted with a dozen C&U operators, the people behind some of the nation’s top programs told us what’s keeping them up at night. (FSD is sharing their thoughts anonymously to allow their answers to remain as candid as possible.)

More mouths to feed, but not more resources

At a...

FSD Resources