Eric Goldstein: Big Apple Operations

New York City’s Eric Goldstein takes a data-driven approach to foodservice.

Accomplishments

ERIC GOLDSTEIN has transformed the NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION by:

  • Creating a team that is made up of diverse backgrounds and changing the department’s management structure
  • Using a data-driven approach to study the foodservice program and make identified improvements
  • Increasing participation in breakfast and summer meals by using innovative techniques such as mobile trucks
  • Gradually making changes to the menus to gain student acceptability while increasing the healthfulness of the items served

As Frank Sinatra famously sang about New York City, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.” That certainly rings true for Eric Goldstein, chief executive of The Office of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education. The department serves 860,000 meals a day at 1,709 schools. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around that,” Goldstein admits. And if running foodservice for the nation’s largest school district wasn’t enough, Goldstein also is in charge of transportation and high school sports.

Building a team: Goldstein was hired in 2004 as a deputy overseeing food, transportation and high school sports. He was promoted to chief executive in 2007. Before joining NYC schools, Goldstein had no food experience. He had worked in England for different companies that focused on publishing and private equity, among other professions. “I have a very disjointed career,” Goldstein says. “Food found me. I’m not one of those people who said, ‘I want to be in the food business.’ I love to eat but food was more of a hobby. I came to this job more from a business and operational background. I earned my Ph.D. in food on the job.”

Because of Goldstein’s business background, he saw that the department could look at its financial side in a different light. “School food is this quasi-corporate entity. Even though we are in the Department of Education, we’ve got revenue, expenses and a product,” he says. “Typically government looks at revenue and expenses separately. We said, ‘I’ve got private sector experience and a lot of other people have private sector experience so let’s start looking at revenue and expense together through a retail lens.’ We put the right management team in place and brought in some outside talent.

“I think we’re structured well,” Goldstein adds. “We have a great team of people who are smart and dedicated. We have a real wonderful chili, if you look at us in a food term.”

One of Goldstein’s major initiatives when he took over as chief executive was to hire people who didn’t necessarily have a foodservice background but who had business expertise. Goldstein hired one deputy who was a high-ranking officer in the Marines to work on the department’s logistical side. Goldstein says this “enables us to really focus and think about how we address our business through a retail lens.”

In addition to hiring diverse talent, Goldstein reorganized the department’s management structure. The department was divided into four categories: field operations, compli-
ance, food and food support and services. Each of New York City’s five boroughs has its own regional director. Following the reorganization, Goldstein says communication improved because a process was put in place for the flow of information.

Numbers crunching: After the people were in place, Goldstein focused on developing metrics. The original plan was for each cafeteria to run its own profit and loss statement. “One problem we had was that because of our systems, our data is about three months slow,” Goldstein says. “And I realized our people didn’t know how to handle a P&L or read a P&L. It was a totally ineffectual tool. So I said, ‘What’s a really good tool that we can nucleate our thinking around?’ The answer was cost per meal.”

Now each school computes its cost per meal, based on food cost only. Managers can then use that data to determine how their schools rank when compared with similar schools.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Richard cousins

Compass Group confirmed this morning that CEO Richard Cousins was killed on New Year’s Eve in a small-plane crash off the coast of Australia. He was 58.

Cousins was scheduled to step down as CEO in March, after leading the world’s largest foodservice management company for 11 years. His planned successor, Compass COO Dominic Blakemore, has agreed to assume Cousins’ duties immediately.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” Compass Chairman Paul Walsh said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for...

Menu Development
to-go meals

Drew Allen didn’t hesitate when asked what he expects of noncommercial dining in the future. “Change,” he says. “We have to change with the times and what our guests are looking for.”

Allen, the director of culinary services at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices in Lebanon, Ohio, says the more the residents and guests at Otterbein change, the more diverse eating habits his team has the chance to explore. One of those changing habits, he says, is diners’ growing desire for portable, made-to-order items . That’s a theme borne out by data, too—and is true across dayparts. Roughly 67%...

Ideas and Innovation
trail mix

We’ve added fueling stations in our units for our workers who didn’t have time to eat or just need a snack. We have areas set up with trail mix, crackers, cookies and water. It helps us avoid people feeling or getting ill, especially when we get closer to exam periods and student workers are studying and not taking the time to eat.

Ideas and Innovation
email

Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

FSD Resources