Jamal Hazzan: The Multi-Tasker

One real world-inspired success has been his Munchable Lunch Kits, a knock-off of Kraft’s Lunchable line. The kits vary from ham and cheese with crackers to pizza pitas to Smuckers Uncrustable Sandwiches, among others. Accompanying the entrée are sides, a dessert, milk and often a prize, like a pencil or eraser, all packed neatly into a portable kit. “I saw so many kids bring those Lunchables in; I thought, why not do it myself?” says Hazzan. Today they are one of the most popular lunch items in the elementary schools.

Although he believes that “pizza will always be number one for the students,” Hazzan recently cut pizza production from five days a week to three to free up the ovens for a new item—“make-your-own toasted hoagies,” inspired by Quiznos’ subs. Students select their own sandwich ingredients, then watch them toast in the oven. Hazzan has taken the customizable trend as far as possible, offering create-your-own wraps, baked potatoes and burritos. Other popular, private-sector inspired items include Greek chicken salads, chicken wings, paninis and fruit smoothies.

Hazzan works with two dietitians to ensure that menus meet federal regulations. Fryers were eliminated five years ago, almost three years before it was mandated by Texas law. Baked chips and 100% fruit ice-pops are two popular and healthful à la carte items. Because Klein’s free and reduced-price lunch population is only about 32%, Hazzan relies on à la carte sales for about 40% of the department’s income. He says that offering a diverse range of à la carte options is key to keeping participation levels up.

The variety in his menus and the proliferation of POS locations throughout the cafeteria—another Hazzan initiative—allow each high school to generate close to $1 million in annual revenue.

Cost cutting measures: Hazzan’s background in economics (he received his MBA in 2006 from Sam Houston State University) also has been put to good use at Klein. In his third year, he decided to outsource the school’s warehousing operation and realized an immediate savings of $150,000.

“Outsourcing just made more sense,” he explains. “First of all, I have no expertise in the warehouse business. Second, I didn’t see any cost savings when I ran up a spreadsheet. We used to have a warehouse supervisor, truck driver and secretary. We couldn’t generate enough savings through our purchases to cover those three salaries alone, not to mention the costs of the trucks and fuel.”

Hazzan also implemented a new purchasing strategy. He bids directly on all center-of-the-plate items—about 20% of his food purchases.

“Of course, all of the food eventually comes through our distributor, but I bid on the high-volume items directly with the manufacturer,” he explains. “It gives me a better price, but the biggest advantage is that I’m going to get the exact product, or brand, that I want.”

Starting an in-house catering business and taking over the district’s snack vending operations are other profit-boosting initiatives that Hazzan has overseen, with annual revenues of $150,000 and $350,000, respectively.

“I’m director of food services, so anything that involves food, I believe I should be able to provide,” he says.

Training and retaining: “When it comes to staffing, we’re no different than the fast food industry,” Hazzan notes. “Turnover is high, and the pay is close to minimum wage.” To counter this, he places a great emphasis on employee training and incentives.

“Each manager in each unit is responsible for training and cross-training their people. That’s what we really emphasize, because then if I’m shorthanded one employee, I can rely on another person. Once an employee is proficient in two different positions, we bump his or her pay up by 80 or 90 cents an hour. If they learn three positions, they move up the pay scale again. We tie these merits in with attendance and TASN (Texas Association For School Nutrition) coursework.”

Hazzan almost exclusively hires from within, asking supervisors to recommend exceptional staff members. New managers undergo an extensive training program, shadowing existing managers who excel in specific categories, like cooking or ordering. The prospective managers spend a week or more with each mentor. “We’re willing to invest in them to get the quality we’re looking for,” notes Hazzan.

Quality service is reinforced through four unannounced, in-depth assessments each year, focusing on service, cleanliness and food quality. Employees who excel are recognized in managers’ meetings and through an “employee of the year” ceremony. Hazzan also created a “spirit stick” program to build team morale while recognizing good service. Each month, one high-performing cafeteria is awarded custody of the “spirit stick,” which they decorate with personalized school elements and put on display.

Although new challenges pop up every day, Hazzan stays optimistic as he continues to look for the next innovation.

“I’ve never met anyone who said this industry is just okay,” he says. “It’s hard work, so you either love it or you hate it. Obviously, I love it.”

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