New T.C. cafeteria ready


Last year for lunch, T.C. Williams students Jennifer Curry and Alicia Morrison usually made the trek to the bagel shop at the Bradlee Shopping Center for a plain bagel and cream cheese, with an occasional pizza bagel to mix things up. It was their 30 minute escape from the school to talk and have a low key lunch. However, this year will be different.

To accompany the new closed campus policy at T.C. Williams High School, students will have a new cafeteria with many menu choices at breakfast and lunch. Food from the McDonalds and Subway in the Bradlee Shopping Center is not one of them.

Morrison and Curry were skeptical of the new cuisine at the school. They tried that last year, said Morrison. I hope I like the chefs cooking the food, added Curry.

Not to worry said Becky Bays, the director of food and nutrition at Alexandria City Public Schools, who is overseeing the final touches on the cafeteria. The 650-seat cafeteria will feature booths, tables, stand-up counters, music and a wide variety of dishes, similar to the food court seen at local shopping malls. Natural lighting is optimized and the school recycles everything possible. Two years ago we asked students what they liked, she said.

ACPS spokesperson Amy Carlini said that there wasnt capacity in the old cafeteria, which was the main driving force behind the project. In 2001, school officials started making plans for an expanded cafeteria as part of the plans for the new school and then the school would have no reason to have an open campus policy. Students leaving the school grounds and not coming back was one issue. Probably thats one reason, Carlini said. This year, the lunch periods will be 30 minutes instead of one hour, and the school day will end a few minutes earlier.

Chutney of Choices
There will be a pizza counter, an International Marketplace, a Garden Fresh line, a Manhattens Deli, two cold food lines, and a Titan Express counter served a la carte for faster service. Whatever they want, added Bays. Each one of these is a themed line, she said.

All this food sounds like a menu out of the food court, but the school dietary standards are strict and the fat content on all the items is within a certain limit.  In all the foods no more than 30 percent of the calories come from fat, no more than 10 percent come from saturated fat and no more than 35 percent by weight of sugar. Thats a recommended standard established by the Healthy Virginia Standard and Governor Mark Warner when he was Governor of Virginia, Bays said. Although students will be able to get ice cream, juice and reduced fat chocolate chip cookies, we dont do desserts, Bays added. The menu includes many items geared toward those on a vegetarian diet. There is, and never has been, deep fat fried foods, added Bays, and the pizza uses low fat, part skim cheese.

A full lunch, which includes an entre, two fruits and vegetables, milk and a bread item, is $2.35. That price is standard even if trying to piece together a lunch a la carte. For example, slices of pizza is $1.95 and add a milk to that it is basically the same price. From a nutritional standpoint, its a good value, said Bays. Breakfasts are $1.05 for a sausage biscuit or cereal, milk, bagels, yogurt or graham bars. The teachers will pay $3.25 for the same lunch, but will have the option of eating in separate workrooms.
There are no sodas or caffeinated beverages available, and their never have been, Bays said.

The nearly 2,000 student roster this year at T.C. will be divided into four 30-minute lunch shifts. The high school is also the main distribution center for the city schools, so all the food is initially shipped there, stored in large freezers and shipped out to the individual schools on an as-needed basis.

Back in the Bradlee Shopping Center, next door to the school, Tommy Clark, a rising senior at T.C. and a tan specialist at the Palm Beach Tan store, remembers the lines at lunch time. McDonalds always had a 50 person line, Subway wasnt much better, he said. In addition to the new cafeteria, the technology curriculum at T.C. will be expanded as well. Im looking forward to it, said Clark.

At the Bagel Bakery, manager Gonzalo Escamilla isnt looking forward to the decrease in business, noting that he might have to cut the hours of one employee.