The some 800 students who attend Dove Science Academy and Dove Science Academy Elementary charter schools in Oklahoma City were in danger of losing onsite meal service this fall when state budget cuts forced Oklahoma City Public Schools, which had been satelliting meals to the two charters, to discontinue the service.
Fortunately, the situation was resolved thanks to the Keystone Foodservice contract firm that agreed to provide the meals, and two other charters with onsite kitchen facilities that agreed to have meals produced at their sites.
“We approached [Keystone] because they provide foodservice to most of the charter schools in Oklahoma City,” says Superintendent Umit Alp of Dove Public Charter Schools. “We had always heard good things about the quality of their service so when we were notified about the change, that was the first point of contact. Of course they were hesitant at first because there was a short time frame, but we promised to provide them the equipment they needed and then made the connections with other charter schools to use their kitchens.”
The charters that consented to have their kitchen facilities used to produce for the Dove schools were Keystone clients Harding Charter Preparatory High School and Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, where the company was already serving meals to a combined enrollment of 1,300 students daily.
“We chose to [separate production] into two cooking sites because neither one could handle all of it in one location,” explains Brett Feeback, one of the partners at Keystone.
Each of the two kitchens is only about five minutes from one of the Dove sites.
Keystone added staff to handle the extra volume and transportation as well as an extra vehicle.
Food—breakfast and lunch on separate runs—is transported in bulk in hot boxes on a truck and then placed on a line at the Dove schools and served hot. The menus are the same as for the schools hosting the production, so the kitchens aren’t making two different meals each day.
“Fortunately, the demographics of Dove, Seeworth and Harding kind of mirror each other,” Feeback says, so the menu preferences align.
Daily lunch menus include one entrée supplemented by choices off a salad bar.
Typical entree items include flatbreads with toppings like barbecued chicken and red onion, burritos, pizza, pulled pork sandwiches, carnita tacos, alfredo and pesto chicken pasta and enchiladas. Much of it is made from scratch. For example, the black beans and rice for the burritos are cooked by Keystone staff.
To ensure continued variety, Keystone commits to introducing three new items each month. Each gets a two-week window to gauge reaction before it is kept or pulled back.
While hot meal production for the Dove schools is done at the Seeworth and Harding kitchens, “we do the salad bar prep at each serving site,” Feeback says, noting that both schools have onsite refrigeration and prep tables. “We have one employee who stays at the serving site all day and cuts up the vegetables and fruit for the salad bar.”
Salad bar items include vegetables such as cut tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, cut fruits like melon and whole fruits like oranges and bananas. Keystone makes its own ranch dressing and also offers several others.
An unusual aspect of Keystone’s approach is how the salad bar fits the menu.
“We’ve designed our reimbursable meal to be met at the end of the line so the student doesn’t have to complete a reimbursable meal with the salad bar,” Feeback explains. “It’s simply an extra they get with their meals. They can skip the salad bar and still have a reimbursable meal. It’s a good way, especially for the little kids, to get them exposed to things without telling them they have to eat it.”
Also unusual is the extent of the breakfast service.
“It’s kind of old school,” Feeback says. “We do scrambled eggs and toast, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy. It’s made at the main location and hauled over and put on the serving line.”
The eggs, by the way, are made from shell eggs cracked in the kitchen. “They crack ‘em and scramble ‘em in a skillet at the other place, then pan ‘em up and take ‘em over,” is the way Feeback describes it.
“We enjoy serving kids, and we’re excited about the opportunity to join the amazing kids and staff at Dove,” said Keystone CEO Josh Sanders in a release announcing the relationship with Dove. “Kids like having fresh options. Our fresh fruit and salad bar gives students and staff an unlimited number of choices. Each person can make their plate their own. It’s a myth that kids won’t eat their vegetables. Our salad bar is proof of that.”
Keystone operates meal service for public and private schools as well as sororities and fraternities on Oklahoma college campuses. Clients include more than 80 school districts encompassing over 500 sites in Oklahoma.
The arrangement is short term as kitchen facilities are under construction at Dove Science Academy, with completion scheduled for October. At that point it will begin producing for both its own 500 students and the 300 at the elementary site.
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