Ask Norfolk Academy graduates their highlights of school life, and lunch in the refectory--the school's term for its cafeteria--often appears high on the list.
It's easy to understand why. The school's tradition of family-style meals, where students eat at the table, sharing conversation with friends and a faculty member, creates an environment of fun and valuable bonding. Another bonus is the daily variety of popular, fresh, and nutritious ingredients.
As Academy planned to reopen campus in August, it decided to provide meals to all students who requested them. However, social distancing and capacity guidelines required a reinvention of the school's lunch tradition.
Instead, meals would need to be made individually and delivered to dozens of different locations. Making the meals would require social distancing and a multitude of safety protocols.
The food service team is delivering. The 16 members are preparing about 7,000 meals each week - 6,400 lunches, including about 70 for students who are gluten intolerant or have allergies, plus 600 breakfasts for faculty and staff.
“It's been about taking care of the community," said Christian Huynh '03, Academy's Director of Dining Services.
Meriwether Godsey provides meals daily to Academy's roughly 1,200 students. Started in 1985, the company draws on years of experience to create diverse menus. They buy from local growers and providers as much as possible, reducing their carbon footprint and serving fresher, seasonal ingredients.
Mr. Huynh oversees Meriwether Godsey at Norfolk Academy. He has worked in an array of roles in the food service industry. He worked at a Williamsburg restaurant that earned the Best Restaurant Award from Virginia Gazette in 2009; has been Director of Catering, Food Service Director, and General Manager for several Virginia colleges; and worked for a food services company, managing more than $5 million in revenue.
That wealth of experience, plus the eagerness and adaptability of the entire food service team, has been crucial in this most unusual year amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
And the diversity is continuing. One day last week, the main menus included baked chicken patties, fresh carrots, apple slices, and bean, salsa, and pasta salad; the vegan/vegetarian menu included a Greek salad; the gluten-free menu included a chicken and smoked gouda quesadilla.
How have they managed to prepare everything? Here's a look at a typical food service day:
- The breakfast team arrives by 6 a.m. The lunch team arrives by 6:30 a.m., at least 30 minutes earlier than in the past. Students eat on different schedules, starting with some Lower Schoolers about 11:15 a.m., and ending with a wave of Middle and Upper Schoolers who finish at 1 p.m. They eat outside when it is nice, under tents the school has installed, around the Pit, or at other popular spots. They eat in classrooms during bad weather.
- To keep social distancing, servers are assigned to specific "teams." For instance, some exclusively handle cold meals, while others handle special meals.
- Part of the refectory has turned into a preparation area, with thousands of individual bags. Each night, bags are sorted out, with dietary restrictions or allergies labeled.
- Kitchen areas are cleaned and sanitized at least three times each day, whenever someone walks away from that area.
Mr. Huynh often does not leave campus until 6 p.m., making for 12-hour work days. He's spurred on by the gratitude he feels from the Academy community and the excitement from his team.
“I've got a really good team here. They all have a genuine care," he said.
Please learn more about Meriwether Godsey and check out their upcoming menus on their website.