SANTA ROSA COUNTY — Move over cafeteria ladies. Hello lunch dudes.
In Santa Rosa County School District, district officials say they are seeing an increase in men entering school food services, an industry widely populated by women. Neither Walton nor Okaloosa county schools are seeing the same trend.
“My assumption is … we are the perfect hours,” Director of Food Service Leslie Bell said. “We are Monday through Friday. We are done by 3 or 4 p.m. every day. Men are starting to go ‘wait a minute.' ”
Bell said in the last couple of years, she has increased her male staff by about 10 bringing their total to 15 in comparison to her total staff of 200.
“They were the minority for a long time,” Bell said. “We are lunch professionals. We embrace men as much as we do women.”
Bell said the men she employs range from 20 to 50 years old and work in everything from cafeteria help to management. She said school food service offers everything you’d find in the restaurant or catering business, for example, but with an increased quality of life.
“It’s exciting,” Bell said. “We are trying to eliminate the stigma. It’s a true profession.”
Executive Chef and Senior Operations manager Bill McMahon started cooking as a young boy. After serving as a cook in the Navy, working in fine dining, restaurants and hospitals, he found his place with the district 11 years go.
“I’ve always been in the kitchen,” McMahon said. “At the time, I didn’t want to be a lunch lady. (But) I looked at it as a way in and I didn’t have to move my family. I will never do anything else.”
McMahon jokes that he still calls himself a lunch lady, but he’s noticing the increase of men.
“It’s growing, but it’s slow,” he said.
Program Specialist and Area Supervisor Wade Hall joined the district 15 years ago. Having always worked in customer service, one day it boiled down to two options, working in a restaurant or joining food services at the district.
The rest is history.
“I was able to stay home with my family,” Hall said. “The pay was better. I started as a manager.”
He adds that with more men looking to be with their family, schools can expect an influx.
“It allows you to be home … we’ll see it grow,” Hall said.