Ricky Clark has made a career and an impact in a corner of the foodservice world most people don't readily think of, and one which wasn't top of mind when he started his own foodservice career. That corner is corrections, and through hard work and dedication, Clark has made a real difference, both to the department he serves and in the lives of former “customers” with whom he worked in the field.
Clark currently serves as the head of training services for the support personnel employed by Virginia's Dept. of Corrections. This encompasses not just foodservice workers, but a host of other areas, from records to maintenance: some 9,000 of the Department's 13,000 employees.
“The training we provide depends on what is needed,” Clark explains. “Because we are ACA certified, they are required to complete 40 hours of training a year. They get their mandatory training at their facilities, but for some more specific areas, they come here where we either have the expertise on staff or, if need be, we bring in outside experts.”
Clark's tenure as head of training services has coincided with an expansion in the number of areas covered. “When I took over support services, the only training offered was for foodservice and secretaries,” he says. “We've since expanded it to include dentists, nurses, building and grounds, warehouse managers, records managers, pest control, and on and on…”
Clark is quick to add that this was not something he forced through. “The need for that training was already there and everyone knew it had to be added. I was just the person in the supervisor position to get it going.”
Previous to taking his position with the Academy for Staff Development five years ago, Clark had put in more than 20 years in the field, heading foodservice operations in several corrections facilities where he often supervised labor crews consisting of offenders (use of the term “inmate” is discouraged).
Some of his proudest achievements, he says, involve former offenders who had turned their lives around using the skills learned in correctional facility kitchens.
“What I most remember is the offenders coming back and telling me the training made a difference in their lives,” he says. “I ran into one guy who was head baker at a prestigious hotel in Roanoke.”
Starting at the Bottom
His background helps Clark understand what it means to work your way up through making your own luck. He started his foodservice career on the bottom rung as a teenager.
“My mom worked at an all girls college, Southern Seminary Junior College, and got me a part time job washing dishes and bussing tables,” he recalls. “I had always been interested in cooking, so Mom passed that information on and they offered me a job as assistant cook. After six months, the manager asked if I wanted to enter the management training program. He thought I had the potential to do it.”
Clark went through the program at the junior college and subsequently at a high school and then a military academy. Eventually, he left for a management job with a foodservice contractor, Shamrock Systems, Inc., for which he served as a manager trainee at William & Mary College and then as assistant foodservice director at a retirement community.
“I was moving around a lot and I wanted to settle,” he says. “People told me I should look for a job with the state for that, so I did. I had no idea what I was looking for or what I was getting into, but it was definitely different,” he chuckles.
That “something different” was foodservice officer at a work release unit called Botetourt. Even though it was “minimum security,” Clark still had to undergo a five-week course at the correctional academy, where he learned defensive tactics and spent time on the shooting range.
He spent six years at Botetourt, then went to another, slightly larger facility as a foodservice supervisor before returning to Botetourt as the foodservice director.
He spent almost 20 years in the Virginia Dept. of Corrections before leaving to take a foodservice director's job with the Albemarle/Charlottesville regional jail.
Clark liked the greater independence and larger budget the job offered — $5 a day per inmate as opposed to $2 in the state faciilities. “You don't have cooks sticking around for 10 years at the jail, so you use more prepared stuff,” he says to explain the disparity. “The DOC makes everything from scratch.”
A Career Detour
Clark planned to retire from Albemarle/Charlottesville, but circumstances he himself created drove things in another direction. While still with the Dept. of Corrections, he took on additional responsibilities as an adjunct trainer, doing this extra work for about eight years.
“I would leave my job at one end of the state and drive three hours to the other end of the state two or three times a week to teach classes in foodservice,” he says. “I would fill in for trainers and also did inservice classes like time management and conflict resolution.”
After Clark had been with the jail for two years, the trainer he worked under with the Dept. of Corrections retired and asked him if he was interested in applying for the position as her replacement.
“I interviewed without any expectation that I'd get it,” he says modestly. “When it was offered, I had to make a decision, and it was a hard decision.”
He decided to take the job and then, a year later, the supervisor overseeing that position also retired. Clark moved up again.
While some would say that Clark happened to be in the right position at the right time, it was also very much a matter of his putting himself in that position through years of effort and commitment.
“I'm the kind of person who likes to improve himself and so I was always taking some kind of training,” Clark says. “I think all of that helped me along the way.”
WHAT'S ON CLARK'S PLATE
Staff: 6 and approx. 120 adjunct trainers
No. of state employees he's responsible for training: approx. 9,000