M-A food services supervisor, Yaz Widatalla, outlined how M-A serves its various culinary entrées, determines pricing, and discusses potential expansions that may be on the way for future Bears to enjoy. Widatalla said his motto the last two years has been, “cater to what the students want.” Every day, Widatalla achieves this by moderating the shipment process of produce from Fresno, Berkeley, and South America; formulating contracts with farmers, allowing M-A to get food at bulk pricing; and facilitating school-wide surveys to make sure the students like what they eat. We had the honor of interviewing Widatalla, providing more insight on how the school food industry works.
What does your daily schedule look like?
“I get in at either 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. and leave at around 2 to 2:30 p.m. I am constantly making sure that the kitchen always has the right supplies, the staff come and go based on their schedules, and the cooks follow the menu to the T. I sometimes go to a couple of schools a day, or I’ll just stay at the district because I need to catch up on office work. I might see three schools a week depending on the needs of each campus. For the most part, I’m at M-A a lot because of the new kitchen that opened up.”
Where does the food come from?
“Most of the food served at M-A comes from Fresno or one of the cities in Southern California. For our food, we have contracts with Food for Thought, Danielsen Co, Gold Star Foods, and Sysco. For our supplies, we have contracts with East Bay. For our repairs, we have contracts with East Bay refrigeration. All schools that participate in the national school lunch program are entitled to the [United States Department of Agriculture] (USDA) grant funds. All of our fruits and vegetables are local except for bananas, since you can’t really get them locally. A lot of the food you see on the main line comes from the USDA. Even though our food comes from USDA, we still inspect it to make sure it is in good quality. If USDA says that the food is bad quality, we won’t get it from them, we’ll go and get the food from a commercial store. USDA products include chicken, can tomatoes, beans, and other nutritious foods.”
How exactly does the USDA function with your program? How do you price your foods?
“[The] USDA formulates contracts with farmers and growers, which then allows them to get the foods at bulk pricing, and we get what is fair market trade on the product. So, the USDA might grant us $500,000 this year, we can use that to purchase USDA products at fair market value…Fair market value is the price that is fair between both the parties or a mutually beneficial value. In conclusion, both the grant and funds from M-A pay for the food. $4.50 for the cost of foods is district-wide. $5 for pitstop and $4.50 for expressway. You get more bang for your buck at the mainline because there will be a salad bar that comes along with the meal. You get an entrée, a vegetable side, fruit, milk, and a side salad. I don’t know any other school that does that. Other schools are charging roughly the same as M-A for food. Fremont High School is charging $4.50, but is considering to increase to $5. This[…]has to do with the high cost of labor and benefits. While that goes up, our food cost somewhat goes up also. When we price out food we are adjusting for labor costs, while maintaining similar costs to other schools nearby. To maintain the M-A food program, an additional $800,000 to $1 million in funds is needed, which is typical for high schools.”
How do you add anything specific to menus?
“We try to cater to what the students want. Last time we had a student survey, specifically at M-A [students] requested tacos so we put that on the menu. A group of students involving the Vice Principal and Principal asked about food services and the group mentioned at first that they wanted Chipotle style food, which obviously was too long and expensive so we changed it to tacos[…]we did Subway before as well.”
Is there any other aspect of the school food industry program that you feel has greatly improved (at least in the Sequoia district)?
The biggest improvement during my time in the position has been new kitchens. No big changes in menu, only small ones. Our food show is February second; after we gather information from there, and the chef writes the menu, we’ll have something to present next year.