CDM of the Month

Will Ratley

Name: Will Ratley, CEC, CCA, CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Regional Director of Operations

Employer: Chartwells K12

Job Location: Jacksonville, Florida

Years at Current Facility: 11 months

Years in Current Position: 10 months

CDM Since: 2014

Why did you decide to become a CDM?

I really like the professionalism that the CDM, CFPP certification showcases. I have access to a whole network of driven professionals that I can reach out to as a resource for information. ANFP consistently provides me with up to date information about the industry which keeps me in the know.

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

I oversee all aspects of operations for 156 schools, two food trucks, and a state of the art production facility (70,000 sq. ft.) Maintaining our focus on production so that we hit our budgetary commitments. Our schools serve 108,000 meals per day and 6,000 supper meals per evening. Development of 55 different menus that are used in Duval County monthly. The menus include breakfast, lunch, pureed and mechanical softened for special needs schools. We also work with local farmers to grow our farm to school program. We currently offer the following products –

  • Collard greens grown in Alachua County, Florida.
  • The full crop of Satsumas grown at Cherokee Ranch in Madison, Florida is designated for DCPS.
  • Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are grown at Whitworth Farms in Boynton Beach, FL and are picked up by Chartwells weekly directly from the farm.
  • Watermelons are grown and harvested from Immokalee, FL
  • Strawberries are grown at Wish Farm in Plant City, FL
  • Fresh Broccoli comes from Sizemore Farms in Plant City, FL
  • Peaches from Tritan Farms in Plant City, Fl

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?

I have a fantastic team of department heads that I depend on. Everyone from our Registered Dietician team to the Purchasing Department which has a great sense of ownership and love that we get to feed children every day. The maintenance department and IT report to me as well so that I can be sure that all our equipment and POS systems are working efficiently. I cascade the important information down to the District Managers to the Directors of Dining service who each have 13 schools and then down to the kitchen managers at each location.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?

You must take a very strategic approach when trying to make sustainable change in 156 different facilities. Through the use of technology, I am able to do a walk-through of multiple locations by utilizing the iPhone FaceTime feature. I can visible see areas that need attention regarding safety, sanitation and food presentation.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

My first job was working as a fry station cook at a resort in the mountains of North Carolina at the age of 15. One day I walked in the back door of the kitchen and told the chef I had 5 years of cooking experience and was ready to work. Somehow, he kept a straight face and said come back on Friday after school. This was a whole new exciting world, a lot like Anthony Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential. The chef put me on the fry station, showed me what to do once and said have fun. After 600 covers on the seafood buffet the chef came by and said, "well you didn't cry or quit, so you have the job." A few months later he told me he knew I was lying about my experience, but gave me credit for trying.

Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?

My wife Lynn who also has a culinary degree from JWU has been my biggest mentor in foodservice. She has always been my biggest critic and keeps me focused not only making good food but operational excellence as well. Lynn was an Operating Partner with PF Chang’s for many years and I learned a lot of the management piece from her. She demands a high-quality product and service everyday all day.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

In an account this large staffing is always an issue. We have a very diverse recruitment process which keeps a steady stream of candidates coming through the door to work toward our staffing level of over 1,200. We have also developed a robust orientation process with encompasses training on knife skills, safety & sanitation, customer service and work place treatment. I feel the more knowledgeable they are going into the position the more likely they are to stay.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Feeding Children fresh, tasty and nutritious meals. I also enjoy the challenge of running such a large operation. You have to make high level decisions daily and get to see the positive impact on the operational piece and the budgetary aspect.

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

Lots of reading and researching new concepts. I have a test kitchen at the NSC which I direct the culinary team on R&D.

What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?

Set high goals early and strive to achieve them. Change jobs about every 2 years to get as much diverse experience possible and then settle into a company you can grow with and utilize your many skills.