Sheila LeJeune: The Transformer

Through the interior wall of windows of her elevated office, Lt. Sheila LeJeune, MS, LDN, RD, has an unobstructed view of the beehive of activity below on the production floor at Lafayette (La.) Parish Correctional Center, where she is foodservice director. No matter the work of the moment, be it re-doing menus for the two-month period to come, drawing up equipment specs or perhaps conferring with opportunity-buy reps, LeJeune keeps a sharp eye on the comings and goings of the approximately 20 inmate workers below.

She does so for good reason. On a recent day, she had to call down to correct one inmate who was washing a blender, base and all. "He was plugging in a blender he'd just washed while it was still wet, he could have gotten electrocuted," she explains. "I try to tell them where I'm coming from without shouting because then you lose control. We are in charge of providing care, custody and control as well as compassion for the inmates. 'Compassion' was added by our deputy captain, everyone is always to be treated like a human being. It's all part of our mission statement."

Far cry from filthy: LeJeune's personal mission for the past 23 years has been to run a ship-shape and cost-effective foodservice operation now serving more than 1,000 inmates per meal, including 100 females, for about $2 a day ($2.04 in September). In fact, it is the first correctional center in Louisiana to be accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA), as it has been for the past 12 years, and by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Association (CALEA). In addition, the Lafayette Health Department has recognized the staff as operating one of the cleanest commercial kitchens in the city. It's a far cry from the "woefully filthy" kitchen she found upon her arrival (in another building) more than two decades ago.

Like so many of her correctional foodservice cohorts across the country, LeJeune's original career goal did not focus on working behind bars. After teaching institutional administration for several years at her alma mater, the University of Southwest Louisiana (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette), LeJeune worked in a hospital as a consultant. An appeal by a doctor who also did some work at the jail led her to a part-time consulting role to help it develop special diets.

"One of the biggest reasons for hiring me was a lawsuit brought in 1982-'83 against the Lafayette Sheriff's Department by a federal inmate who was not provided with a diabetic diet while incarcerated," she says. "The department would have lost this million-dollar suit had it gone to court; since he tried to escape the case didn't proceed. At that point, the department realized this could happen again and again if they didn't get these special diets under control."

Under budget: LeJeune and her staff of 10 foodservice personnel and about 20 inmates served about one million meals in 2005, of which 161,107 were special diet meals she developed, including calorie-controlled diabetic diets, low salt, bland, modified consistency diets (including clear liquid, full liquid, soft and puree) renal and pregnancy diets. From the outset, LeJeune has consistently aimed to keep food costs low while providing high-quality meals, and she always has money left over from her $1.2 million annual budget.

Sometimes it's used for equipment purchases, like the $50,000 spent last year for a new walk-in cooler, a new three-compartment steamer and tilting skillet, but often it's disbursed to other departments. "Last year I spent $825,000 in raw food (purchases) to put out about one million meals," she says. "Per day we give inmates about 3,000 calories versus 2,500 required by the state of Louisiana. My inmate employees can eat double portions plus additional food items and coffee, some of the perks of the job, but otherwise there's always the canteen if they want to purchase more food."

Seven-fold increase: The transformation of the department progressed slowly and steadily from LeJeune's first day on the job and during that first year as a part-time consultant, then accelerated as she went to full-time the following year. "In 1983-'84, when I first started as foodservice director, there were about 200 inmates," she says. "In December 1984, the new jail opened and we put out 13,000 meals just that first month. Shortly after, they double-bunked, and now we're up to 90,000 meals per month out of the same kitchen! I started with three deputies in the old jail and now I'm up to 10."

"When I started, the place was so filthy I didn't eat here for two months," she continues. "There were no sanitation or food-handling standards in place. During those first few months we got it cleaned up, but there was a lot of resentment toward me by the deputies because I was in control and not them."

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

Industry News & Opinion

Panera Bread Co. announced today that it intends to buy the Au Bon Pain brand as a way of opening more bakery-cafes in colleges, healthcare facilities, office buildings, travel centers and malls.

Au Bon Pain, which was Panera’s sole business under an earlier incarnation of the company, consists of 304 bakery-cafes. Several units are located in noncommercial venues.

Panera owns or holds the franchise rights to about 2,050 restaurants, few of which are located outside of strip malls.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Immediately after the deal was...

FSD Resources