By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — The School Department is planning to hire a chef in a bid to expand the school meals program to offer an evening meal for students and potentially offering private catering services and opening the cafeteria to the general public as a restaurant.
Wayne Vespa, director of Methuen schools’ nutrition services, says that the chef would work at Methuen High School and, if the right candidate is found, could also serve as an assistant director of nutritional services to help with federal compliance paperwork and district-wide decisions.
“This is only the beginning stage. The sky is the limit,” Vespa said in an interview. “There should be no reason in the world we can’t entertain doing a lot with this space.”
With the opening of a newly renovated and expanded portion of the high school on Sept. 3, Vespa and his staff find themselves with a new, state-of-the-art kitchen, a serving area with multiple serving stations and a new cafeteria. The high school also will become the central storage area for the entire district’s frozen and dry food.
Vespa said he wanted a chef to help expand the food service program to offer an evening meal for students and eventually for members of the community. The high school could also offer catering, he said.
“The city spent a lot of money. The state spent a lot of money. We should maximize the use of this facility,” he said.
At Monday’s School Committee meeting, member Robert Vogler said he liked the idea of hiring a chef who also served as an assistant director, but worried that the School Department would cut into private business in the city.
“Anything that competes with private companies in Methuen that pay taxes, I would be concerned about,” Vogler said.
The advertisement for a chef did not include a salary. Vespa said a chef who also served as an assistant director would command a higher salary.
He promised, however, that the cost for the new position would come out of the school meals program fund, which is separate from the school budget and is self-sustaining, and would not result in a hike in meal prices.
“I can assure each and every one of you here: This is in no way, shape or form going to affect the current pricing structure for the program,” he said. “I don’t even need to consider that at this point.”
Vespa said he has received a number of resumes and has talked with a couple candidates. A chef’s position was approved two years ago by the School Committee, he said, but an assistant director of nutrition position would have to be approved.
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