Cafeteria food could soon be on a plate near you as the Scottsdale Unified School District prepares to launch an outside catering service.
The district plans to sign catering contracts with outside organizations to bring extra money into the food services department, said Sue Bettenhausen, director of nutritional services and wellness for the district.
The district won’t do much catering this year — Bettenhausen said she needs to solidify a business plan first — but it is about to get its first contract.
The Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA decided Friday it wants the district to cater for it, said Marcia Leach, youth and family director for the YMCA’s Scottsdale branch. The YMCA hopes to start serving the district’s food Aug. 21, Leach said.
Scottsdale already does about $100,000 worth of catering yearly, but it’s mostly within the district, Bettenhausen said. The district is also catering an event for the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce later this month.
Bettenhausen said she’s especially interested in approaching retirement homes, parochial and charter schools and community groups such as Boys and Girls clubs.
“Some of these places don’t know they’re going to be targeted yet,” she said.
Catering contracts will help food services generate additional revenue, which is important for the self-supporting department, Bettenhausen said.
Scottsdale isn’t a fastgrowing district. While the number of enrolled students remains relatively stable, food costs keep going up.
Bettenhausen said food services has increased its business 31 percent in the past two years, reaching $7.6 million in sales this year.
“In order to survive the school business, I’m looking for new avenues and opportunities,” Bettenhausen said.
Bettenhausen said she won’t know how much catering could bring in to the district until her business plan is set.
The district’s newly renovated central kitchen at Sierra Vista Academy will be a perfect place to increase catering operations in fall 2007, after it’s done serving as a kitchen for two schools this year, Bettenhausen said.
Coronado High School, a few blocks away from Sierra Vista, won’t have a cafeteria this year because of construction. Sierra Vista workers will prepare meals for Coronado students and cart them to the high school every day.
Catering won’t interfere with normal preparations for students, Bettenhausen said. School kitchens are generally used from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. on school days.
Other times, “all that beautiful equipment” sits unused, Bettenhausen said.
The idea of a school district providing catering services isn’t new. Mesa Public Schools has catered for about 15 or 20 years, said Loretta Zullo, director of food nutrition.
Like Scottsdale, the Mesa district caters to bring money into its self-supporting food service department — in Mesa’s case, between $250,000 and $300,000 a year, Zullo said.
There is, however, one catch: Mesa will only cater events that are somehow tied to district activities.
“We’ll do such things as a wedding if it’s a teacher’s son or daughter getting married. We do a lot of retirement parties,” Zullo said.
The YMCA plans to use Scottsdale’s catering service to offer meals at its preschool program, Leach said.
Since the YMCA’s kitchen consists of a microwave, sink, refrigerator and not much else, it formerly asked parents to send their kids with lunches, Leach said.
“With so many working families lately, they don’t have time to put together a lunch,” Leach said. “(Kids) don’t have a full nutritional lunch. They just have snack food.” Leach said she wanted the Scottsdale district to cater meals because she knew the food would be nutritious and kid-friendly.
“I didn’t want something bland that the kids are going to say, ‘Oh, gross,’ ” Leach said.