Brent Craig: Communicating change

Brent Craig has opened the lines of dialogue at Douglas County Schools.

Spreading the news: After reworking the menus, the next step was getting the word out to parents and students about the department’s efforts. Craig created a nutrition services Facebook page to share news and information. On the page he also interacts with parents. Craig or a member of his department answers parent questions and starts conversations with the site’s visitors by asking them questions, such as what did you eat for breakfast? Craig says the Facebook page has been a great way to help change negative perceptions about the program, which Craig says have been a longstanding problem in the district. [To learn more about the Facebook page, read the May cover story “Making social media work.”]

“We have some moms who get together and they each take a day and they bring in lunch from places like Jason’s Deli or they have a personal chef come in and do a special lunch for these kids,” Craig says. “We have a group of parents who have partnered with Whole Foods to bring in high-end boxed lunches that cost like $7 or $8. Whole Foods delivers food to these schools. It’s sort of their effort to run out the school lunch program because they have no faith that the school lunch program can be healthy. We probably have 10% to 15% of our families that will only eat organic or whole foods. There are some people who just won’t eat school food. It’s a challenge I never thought I would have to deal with.”

Craig says that, for the most part, the parents who have the negative opinions about his program simply don’t know about the changes that have been made. “When people learn the good things we’re doing they have a different attitude,” he adds.

Reaching the students was next. After seeing positive student reaction to culinary events by local chefs in collaboration with Chefs Move to Schools, Craig created For Kids, By Kids, a program that seeks student input. “We are finding that kids like to get involved in creating and having a say as to what their world is about,” Craig says.

At the middle schools For Kids, By Kids started with two area chefs coming into the schools to work with health classes to develop a line of trail mixes and granola that are then prepared and sold in the cafeteria. Craig says this program is how he has continued to sell à la carte items. “We’re going to continue the à la carte, but with the kids helping to design what they think would be good snacks,” he adds. Craig says schools are developing items that will make up the snack menu.

The ProStart class at the high school also got involved with For Kids, By Kids. The class, in collaboration with Chefs Move to Schools, took a cheese Big Daddy’s pizza and developed seven specialty pizzas. The pizzas were taste tested by fellow students and sold in some schools. The pizzas also played a role in the revamp of the high school lunch program.

Open and closed: Last school year the high school campuses were opened for lunch for the first time in 50 years. Craig says he expected the move to be a financial “disaster” for the department. “We expected to lose about 30% to 35% of revenue when they opened the high schools,” he says. Craig knew he had to come up with a way to keep the students on campus and participating in the meal program. He did this by replicating what the students would find at off-campus dining options.

Craig opened a Subway franchise at each of the nine high schools. “We own the franchises,” he says. “We bake the bread and we make the sandwiches right there in front of them like if they were having a commercial Subway experience.” He also opened up Berry Blendz, a franchise much like a Jamba Juice, which has been popular with students.

Pizza was another item that was changed. The high schools had been selling Domino’s pizza, but after the success of the ProStart specialty pizzas, Craig began selling those pizzas instead of Domino’s pizza in three high schools. “We bake the pizzas off and cut them right in front of our students to give them a pizzeria feel,” Craig says. “Plus, the students are developing the pizzas. There is great power in something that is kid tested and kid approved because the item seems to be more acceptable and the kids have faith in that.” The Buffalo chicken and vegetarian with balsamic glaze are two favorites.

“We try really hard to make [the high school cafeteria] like a mall food court type of experience,” Craig says.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

Ideas and Innovation
turnip juice brine

Give leftover brine new life by adding it to vegetables. In an interview with Food52, Stuart Brioza, chef and owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, says that he adds a splash of leftover brine while sauteeing mushrooms to increase their flavor profile. “We like to ferment turnips at the restaurant, and it’s a great way to use that brine—though dill pickle brine would work just as well,” he says.

Menu Development
side dishes

Operators looking to increase sales of side dishes may want to focus on freshness and value. Here’s what attributes consumers say are important when picking sides.

Fresh - 73% Offered at a fair price - 72% Satisfies a craving - 64% Premium ingredients - 56% Natural ingredients - 49% Signature side - 47% Something familiar - 46% Housemade/made from scratch - 44% Something new/unique - 42% Large portion size - 42% Healthfulness - 40% Family-size - 40%

Source: Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report , powered by Ignite

Ideas and Innovation
earth

When putting together our surveys, FoodService Director’s editors tend to ask operators about big trends that we’re seeing throughout the industry. For the November "Besties" issue , we asked readers to share the best ways they’re menuing things like plant-based dishes, trending international cuisines and creative DIY options.

Great responses flooded in from across the country, and it was tough to narrow down which would make it into the cover story. A few even came in after the piece was finished. Laura Thompson, resident district manager for Aramark at James Madison University,...

FSD Resources