Something Good Always Cooking at Kids Kafé

By the time most commuters begin their morning routines, Triad's Kids Kafe staff has already served preschoolers breakfast - and that's just the warm-up.

The opening of the church's Worship Center/Gym last June and its large commercial kitchen, walk-in refrigerators, freezers and other equipment made Kids Kafe possible and brought food service entirely in house.Whether it's 1,500 chicken nuggets or 180 slices of its popular cheesy pizza in a single meal day, the Kids Kafe cafeteria is a busy place and integral part of the church's educational ministry.

Martha Brown, the Kids Kafe manager says, "I think anytime you can offer students a well-balanced meal, it will improve their focus and energy for their studies. I've always told students that a full belly helps the brain work better." Brown, whose more than 14 years of food service experience includes cafeterias posts at five schools in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, is the master chef of the operation. She's assisted by staffers Cheryl Medeiros and Melissa Rivers and parent volunteer Sheri Albright.

"In 2013, I noticed a bulletin announcement about looking for someone with public school cafeteria experience," says Brown. "I had been working in the Kernersville Elementary School cafeteria and as a manager in the Child Nutrition Department of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. When I saw the announcement, I knew that God was moving me to apply.
"After contacting Executive Administrator Dennis Roberts and Preschool Director Laura Harris about the job, well, the rest is history."

Crunch time for Brown and her staff is 10:40 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. That's when they serve eight different groups (five preschool and three Academy) anywhere from 160 to 220 meals a day. They also serve preschoolers a snack each day at 1:45 p.m.

Harris sets the menu which includes a choice of two entrees and features a protein, vegetable/starch, a fruit/dessert as well as 2 percent milk for the preschool and (for the Academy) the option to get 1 percent chocolate milk instead. Unlike public school menus, dessert is standard and not an a la carte item.  Brown says Kids Kafe regularly surveys students and makes menu tweaks. "We do our best to listen to the students' requests," she says. "We added broccoli cheddar soup and switched from whole wheat to white wheat buns, as examples, based on student feedback."

Prep Time

Brown and her staff spend nearly three hours each morning preparing the day's meals. All are trained in food preparation and serving as well as health and safety regulations. As the cafeteria's manager, Brown must maintain her ServSafe certification required by the Forsyth County Health Department which regularly inspects Kids Kafe just as it does area restaurants and other facilities serving food.

Depending on the meal, Brown, Rivers and Medeiros work at different stations set up for each type of food. During one recent morning, Rivers made chicken dumplings while Medeiros created grilled chicken wraps. Whether it's corn or another vegetable or an item like chicken wraps or hamburgers, the Kids Kafe team uses batch cooking - not cooking everything at once - to keep meals as fresh as possible.

"With only three of us prepping and serving lunch, we're very busy," Brown explains. "We each have a responsibility during the serving times which we rotate weekly. Besides serving the students lunch, we must keep up with batch cooking as needed, and scrubbing pots and pans and cleaning the trays."

Triad Roots

Brown and her husband, Jeff, joined Triad Baptist in 1999 after moving to the area from Pennsylvania. Since then, they've served in a variety of ministries, including Vacation Bible School, the choir, handbells, and organizing the Christmas Eve service. They're members of the Colossians 1:10 Engage Sunday School community.

Like Brown, Rivers also has been a Triad member since 1999; Medeiros joined in 2013.
"The three of us who work in Kids Kafe are excited and dedicated to offering the students of the Preschool and Academy meals that are not only good for them but food that they enjoy - all while keeping the facility clean and up to health department standards," Brown says. "We love hearing the students tell us we're serving one of their favorite meals."

Brown says she first began working in school cafeterias part-time in Pennsylvania when her son, Zach, was small so her schedule would match his. She believes Kids Kafe is the latest step in a career that predates even her cafeteria service. "My very first job was at McDonald's when I was 15 years old," she says. "Since then I have done many different jobs, but ended up back in the food service business. I believe that God has been preparing me for this position over many years. It's exciting to be serving students, leading the Kids Kafe team, and incorporating cooking techniques I've learned over the years."

Multi-Use Facility

As with other Triad Baptist facilities, Kids Kafe is one of many uses for the commercial kitchen. Others include concessions for Triad Baptist Christian Academy and Recreation Ministry events, and meals prepared by Phil West and his Food and Fellowship team.
Lead Pastor Rob Decker says the church is in the process of buying a $10,000 floor cover for the gym so it can host events with food for church and community. He says the church also plans to advertise soon for a part-time food service manager who would work with West's team and further expand the kitchen's use.

See below for the link to the article written in the TBC E-Connections Newsletter.