Maschio’s Food Services Inc. is a management company that serves 202 school districts encompassing 450 school buildings in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. Since the coronavirus shut down school buildings in its markets this past spring, the company has been busy providing meals to kids who are learning from home.
Because Maschio's had relied on site production in normal times, it had to come up with an alternative solution when the school kitchens from which it operated were closed. That alternative is a new commissary kitchen inside the company’s headquarters in Chester, N.J., that has been turning out up to 50,000 meals a day to client district students across the state where the in-school kitchen facilities are not available.
“We served nearly four million meals between when New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy closed the state’s schools in March and mid-July,” says Sharon Tepper, director of marketing for Maschio’s.
“The commissary came to life when we had to come up with a plan for this pandemic for school districts where we couldn’t access their kitchens, so we put it together to produce meals and ship them out to school districts,” explains Patty Fragioudakis, director of operations. “We ship to whoever needs them and cover the whole state.”
The commissary sits in a space in the company headquarters complex previously used for storage and is staffed by employees from nearby districts who were idled by the lockdowns. It is Maschio’s first experience with central production other than smaller-scale satellite kitchens at some of its schools. However, it did have some experience in-house to help with putting it together.
Photo credit: Maschio’s Food Services
Photo: In-school meals are expected in include both cold and hot options, such as this mac and cheese/fresh fruit-and-veggies combo.
“One of our founders, Frank Maschio, came from restaurant industry and had experience with commissaries,” Tepper suggests. “Also, we have some chefs who have worked in corporate kitchens before.
As districts contemplate their fall plans, Maschio’s is gearing up to serve whatever approaches its clients decide upon, a moving target as many districts are unsure how much of their academics will be in-person classes at traditional school sites and how much remote learning. That of course makes a big difference for the meal provider, which has to prepare for two different service models—in-school feeding and remote meal distribution.
“As of today [mid-August] most [Maschio’s client] districts are keeping with a hybrid approach” that combines the two models, Fragioudakis says.
For in-school students, therefore, Maschio’s is looking at pre-packaged, portioned grab-and-go options, some of which can be rethermed for a hot lunch solution. Where they will be eaten remains an open question.
Photo credit: Maschio’s Food Services
Photo: This croissant sandwich combo is one of the grab-and-go school meal options developed by Maschio’s Food Services for client districts.
“Some districts will try to start with students eating in the cafeteria to give a sense of normalcy, while others will just go with serving in the classrooms,” Fragioudakis offers. As for remote learning students, “initially we’d like to prepare food onsite [at the schools] and distribute them from there, but if a school district is forced to close then we’ll have to pivot to our commissary.”
That facility is scalable for added capacity if needed, she adds, but she expects its current capacity to suffice, at least in the early going. Meanwhile, the Maschio’s team has to prepare menu options to cover a variety of contingencies.
“Menus are complicated because we have to take into account all the different serving scenarios and logistics of it, so we have a whole menu planning team that [includes] operations, chefs, dietitians, purchasing/procurement and marketing,” Fragioudakis explains. “We went over menus for all scenarios to make sure we have the right portion sizes, all the required components, etc. for each menu.”
The team has developed seven daily menus in grab-and-go format, a step outside the norm for a company that concentrated on operating serving lines where students could choose their meal combinations. However, that is the reality of limiting student/staff contact and lunchtime crowds.
One possible solution is in an online platform the company has already used to post its menus that also has mobile ordering capability that would allow students to pre-order customized meals.