As a cafeteria manager of two elementary schools, Jim Grinnell’s plate is pretty full.
But his heart is full, too — it’s part of why he was recently named Manager of the Year for Orange County Public Schools’ West Learning Community.
For Grinnell, serving as cafeteria manager at both Lake Whitney and Westbrooke elementary schools is not just a job. It fuels his passion for making a difference in a child’s day-to-day life — and ensuring each student gets a healthy meal.
Grinnell worked for 23 years of Carrols Corporation, which owns and operates more than 1,000 restaurants under the Burger King and Popeye’s brands. He also worked as a manager at Cracker Barrel for five years. When his restaurant on Major Boulevard in Orlando was shut down to expand Interstate 4, he knew it was time for a change.
“I wanted to do something different, so I interviewed with OCPS,” Grinnell said. “I’ve been here 7-and-a-half years now, and I love it. I’ve always been involved with food and managing, but as far as the children, that’s my passion now — making a difference in a child’s day-to-day life. I try to stress in the morning that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and a lot of kids don’t eat breakfast.”
Grinnell takes students at both of his schools on tours throughout the kitchen area to give them a behind-the-scenes look at what he and his staff do on a daily basis. It also gives him the opportunity to teach them about nutrition.
“I touch base on some of the areas like food, our employees, the different sources and resources,” he said. “I really hammer in on the nutrition part of it and that children need to eat breakfast, because it fuels their brain for the day. I feel that we have a big part of the kids’ success, because we make sure the kids have a healthy meal.
“All the food is made here at both of my schools,” he said. “We make our own food, wraps and pasta. We do a lot of fresh foods and veggies, too, and sometimes, we tie into local farmers and vendors to get the produce from them.”
He and his staff also like to put on fun contests and dress-up days for the students. Sometimes — such as during National School Breakfast Week — they will dress up in “crazy clothes” or costumes to make things more fun for the children. Sometimes, they will put a sticker under certain trays, and whichever student finds a sticker under his or her tray wins a prize.
He credits his two cafeteria leads — Angely Guerrero at Lake Whitney and Mary Yanes at Westbrooke — for the success of the schools’ meal programs. In fact, he said, Yanes also was named Lead of the Year for the West Learning Community.
As a dual manager in OCPS’ food and nutrition services, Grinnell splits his time between his two schools and is at each of them at least once per day. He also helps float and train cafeteria leads.
It was a true surprise to him when he was told he received the Manager of the Year recognition, but for Grinnell, the real reward is getting to interact with students, staff and parents each day.
“It made me happy that people noticed what I do,” he said “It was nice knowing that someone noticed that I do try to go over and beyond.
“I’ve stayed in my position at both schools because I really appreciate, respect and like working with the principals and the staff at both of my schools,” he said. “They’re very professional and they’re here for the kids. These two schools are very lucky with the staff, because they’re here for the kids. We want to get people to know that the kitchen really cares about your kid — we want them to eat with us.”