Cafeterias transformed into Wildcat Cafe (9/10/09)

Sept. 10, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston School District’s food service program has undergone significant changes in the past year, including a new food service director, cafeteria layout and menu. Logo for school cafeterias.

Add to that a new name.

Starting this school year, the cafeterias at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools are now called the Wildcat Café, named after the district’s mascot. Students are even greeted by a new, professionally designed logo featuring an animated image of a regally posed mountain lion perched next to a hot lunch tray.

Food Service Director Scott Wagner said it’s his goal to continue increasing student interest in the cafeteria, and creating an identifiable logo is another step in that direction.

“For us, it’s more of a marketing thing,” Wagner said.

Student reaction has been positive, Wagner said.

“They haven’t really seen it until recently when they came back,” he said.

Wagner said the logo was created by Rival Art, a company that specializes in designing logos and mascots for schools across the United States. He hopes the new café logo can be translated into something the whole school can rally behind.

In fact, District Principal Walter Nardelli told the School Board it’s possible the logo could be licensed out to sports teams and other activity groups within the schools. Wagner said it would be easy to replace the word café with any team sport and switch the cafeteria tray with a basketball or baseball.

There’s been talk of creating Williston school T-shirts and hats with the logo to sell to the community, Nardelli said. Any profits from sales would go directly back into the food service program, he added.

“This really opens us up for ideas,” Nardelli said at the board’s Sept. 2 meeting.

Wagner said licensing of the logo is in the early planning stages and it all depends on what direction the administration wants to take.

“If we can make a profit on it, that would be great,” Wagner said.

Wagner became Williston’s food service director last year after the program received a major overhaul. Former Food Service Director Lydia King resigned her position in February 2008 amidst declining student participation and significant losses in revenue. Champlain Valley Union High School Food Service Director Leo LaForce took over the position for the remainder of the school year.

LaForce changed the district’s menu offerings, focusing on healthier options and local products. Wagner continued that trend last year, as well as updating equipment in both schools’ cafeterias, which he said was out-of-date and inefficient.

Since last fall, student participation in the hot lunch program has increased from 34 percent to 45 percent, Wagner said. By his estimation, the food service program has served 26,000 more lunches than in 2008.

Financial woes

With all the changes made in the cafeterias last year, the food service program still ran a large deficit. Bob Mason, chief operations officer for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said the program lost $118,893 last year. The number is less than the 2008-2009 school year deficit, which ran more than $120,000. The school’s general fund covers the lost revenue.

The increased participation rates were not able to curtail the sharp increase in food costs, Mason said. Also, there was significant investment in the program’s equipment, which also added to the deficit. Mason said it’s too early to speculate what this year’s food service deficit will be, although he expects it will continue to shrink with Wagner in charge.

For this school year, Wagner said he will continue building upon what was successful last year. Offering varied choices has driven more students to buy lunches, he said. He’s also encouraging more feedback from students and staff. And he hopes the new Wildcat Café logo will remind students to visit the hot lunch lines more often.

“Basically, we’re going to keep going in the direction we went last year,” Wagner said.