Sheila LeJeune: The Transformer

Grabbing the opportunity: As the weeks became months, the results of the standards and protocols LeJeune was putting into place and the systems she was implementing became evident to all involved. She initiated a bidding system, quarterly for bread, weekly for the more volatile prices of meat and produce, and monthly for staples. For milk and chemical purchases, the facility tags along with the school state bids, "since I'm an equal opportunity user," LeJeune proudly admits.

"I also do 'opportunity buys', overruns or excess items manufactured for large groups like the military or chain restaurants that need to be sold. My vendors are very good and will refund my money if product is not satisfactory."

LeJeune recalls that, early on, one opportunity-buy vendor pursued her business for five years but she didn't have enough freezer space at the time to accommodate his product. Now, she'll get 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of product, usually meat, but sometimes prepared cookies or cookie dough, the kinds of product she could not afford to buy otherwise.

Last month, she spent $1.90 to $2.04 per inmate per day for three meals by taking advantage of the lowest bids within the bidding system as well as opportunity buys that often trump the low bid. For example, a recent low bid for steak fingers was $1.46 per pound, but LeJeune paid $1.16 with her prime opportunity-buy vendor. "That's a big difference when you're buying 300 pounds for one meal," she asserts.

Seasonal produce from the nearby prison farm is also menued. Deputies and inmates handle the processing, freezing and storage processes in the kitchen of a nearby abandoned school that LeJeune has refurbished with used equipment.

Along the way, LeJeune created the position of inventory control officer; working closely with him, she now buys all spices in bulk. Purchasing 155 pounds of garlic or 50 to 100 pounds of paprika for the facility is not unusual. "We make our own seasoning concoction and I'm paying $1.50 a pound for red pepper," she explains. "I say, 'Just send me the sacks, I have my own containers.'"

Choreographing the steps: Over and above all the systems she's implemented and the results she's effected, LeJeune believes the most important aspect of her operation is the menu, which she writes. But of almost equal importance is the tight choreography executed in getting that meal out to the inmates.

Product must be ordered and, in house, the items pulled out and defrosted to serve on time, she points out. "I'm directing traffic, the sergeant on the floor directs production and the inventory officer has to make it all happen, he's computer-trained and does all the ordering on-line," she says. "He and I modify the menu. I believe menu variety is the spice of life; mine is for a whole two months, versus one day at a time when I arrived here. You have different things to add in as they come along with opportunity buys. If you send out a tray that looks good, it says, 'We care about you.' It also keeps the officers safe without riots over food."

Three times each day, meals are loaded on 12 carts (heated in most cases, except for some cold breakfasts), each holding 94 trays, and delivered to pods on five floors. Overall, about 1,000 inmates are served, as well as deputies and staff in a small cafeteria, plus 26 people in a drug rehab program who purchase meals priced at $2. About 145 work-release residents are served hot meals for breakfast and supper and are provided with a bag lunch to take out on the job.

LeJeune quickly learned and applied efficient ways of maintaining order, cutting down on waste and setting out responsibilities, all with a loving touch. "Here, they call me 'The Lady in the Gun Tower' since I have an elevated office and they know that I know what I'm doing," she asserts. "My expectations are high because if you don't expect a lot you won't get a lot. That's why a lot of inmates are here, their boundaries weren't drawn clearly.

"But I also know, in any area of foodservice, not only in corrections, a foodservice director is nothing without the loyalty of their staff."

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