Billy Reid: Business Man
BILLY REID has transformed the child nutrition department at SALIDA UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT by:
- FOCUSING on the business aspect of foodservice and keeping the budget consistently in the black
- ADDING more choices to the menu mix and focusing on healthy, child-friendly flavor profiles
- ADDING 32 contracts to provide meals to programs outside the district
- GAINING national recognition for the district, with six schools receiving the Gold Award of Distinction from the HealthierUS School Challenge
Billy Reid, director of child nutrition services at 2,800-student Salida Union School District in California, had a few other careers before child nutrition. Emigrating from Ireland at 15, Reid worked in restaurants in New York City, first as a busboy, then as a waiter, until he felt the kitchen calling. He graduated from the French Culinary Institute and started his cooking career, which included creating his own line of salad dressings. After a move, Reid attended the California Police Academy just “for the fun of it,” before working at a nonprofit that provides services to adults with learning disabilities.
After seeing a newspaper ad, Reid decided to take his skill set to Salida Union School District, where he has been since 2006. During all of his different employment adventures, Reid learned one thing: business matters.
Numbers crunching: “You can have all the best intentions and all the greatest ideas, but if you don’t have the budget in place to utilize and implement these things, then it’s all for naught,” Reid says. “You have to approach this with a business model and a business mind. I asked my boss on the first day, ‘Explain to me what your budget expectations are of me.’ He seemed quite taken aback by the fact that he was actually being asked. I was told, ‘If you can pay for the custodian at the central kitchen and you have $10,000 left over, I’d be very happy.’ That seemed quite simple.”
So Reid set out to accomplish his goals. For a guy like Reid, who was used to working restaurant hours, what happened during his first month was a bit of a shock. Reid’s first month corresponded with the district’s spring break. For the first time in a while, Reid found himself sitting in an empty kitchen with no customers to serve.
“I was so fresh in the job, I didn’t really know what the job was in its entirety to actually change anything,” Reid recalls. “The phones didn’t ring and there was nobody there to get input from. It was probably the most boring time in my culinary career. I was thinking, there has to be somebody somewhere who needs to eat.”
Increasing participation: This reflection period helped Reid transform the program by giving him the time to focus on the opportunities he had with his department. “Foodservice is all about increasing participation,” he says. “If I don’t do that first, I can’t help anybody.”
When Reid arrived at the district, which is made up of three elementary schools and one middle school, in 2006, participation was 65%. Now participation is around 80%.
The first step was focusing on customer service. “Students aren’t just students. They are customers,” Reid says. “I remember explaining to one of my staff members, ‘How would you feel if you went to a restaurant and the hostess was banging on the table telling you to hurry up?’ People eat here by choice. It’s not just a meal, it’s an environment.”
After focusing on serving the students as customers, Reid started tweaking the menu. Using his culinary training, Reid and the central kitchen staff developed new recipes and flavor profiles.
“Children will eat what children will eat,” says the father of six. “I think the mistake a lot of people are making in this whole obesity movement is that they are, on too broad a scale, putting together flavor profiles that are more adult-based than child-based. You end up alienating children. Kids like pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. They like kid-type food. In our district we have the healthier versions of those things.”
For example, the chicken nuggets are all white meat and made with whole-grain breading. The pizza has a whole-grain crust and low-fat cheese. The hot dogs are made with turkey.