Editor’s note: This article is part of the BBVA Compass Success Series. The articles, which highlight home-grown, innovative businesses in the North Texas region, also appear on Dallas Innovates, a site featuring daily content covering the innovation ecosystem in North Texas.
How does maple-roasted chicken or a pizza made with a garlic-brushed whole grain crust sound for lunch? Pretty good, right? You might be surprised to know that those are just a couple of offerings from the Twelve Oaks Catering school lunch menu.
Dallas-based Twelve Oaks can trace its origins to a chain of assisted living centers. Jonathan Jones worked for the chain, which included a preschool meal preparation component. In 1996, Jones purchased one of the centers and refocused the business to meet the needs of preschools that needed to outsource meal preparation.
Today, Twelve Oaks serves 60 to 70 clients across North Central Texas, from preschools to high schools.
“Although we do many tuition-based schools programs, our source of pride is providing meals to ‘programs of need,’” says Jones, who is president of the company. Those could be through national school lunch programs or after-school and summer programs in which children are provided a “from scratch” entrée or sandwich, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit. For some kids, that may be their only meal of the day.
Jones says that in addition to partnering with education clients to help feed students a balanced, nutritious diet, his company partners with schools to help students understand and embrace healthful foods as part of a lifestyle.
Staying Ahead of the Competition
More organizations are outsourcing meal planning and preparation, which means more opportunities and — increased competition — for Twelve Oaks.
He says that one of the company’s strengths is its longevity in the industry and in the Dallas area. “In the educational food-service environment where service tenures can be ephemeral, we have established long-term relationships — 10 years or more — with the vast majority of our preschools, school districts, and afterschool/ summer program sponsors through quick and genuine responsiveness to our clients’ immediate and future needs.”
He also notes responsiveness: “Menus are tailored as best as possible to fit the participants of each client. Communication is two-way and we provide exactly what we promise,” Jones says.
And, as in almost any industry, it’s hard to stay in business unless you’re continually evolving. Food fads and regulations are consistently in flux. “We spend a lot of energy trying to anticipate and participate early in industry menu trends.
“We were many years ahead of the industry and governmental regulations in the provision of low fat and zero trans-fat foods, providing majority whole grain-based foods, producing majority of ‘scratch’ made entrees for all school ages when processed items where still the norm, and the inclusion of multiple fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal,” Jones says.
Part of the business model for Twelve Oaks is to not only study the competition, but to look beyond it, and see what restaurants and event caterers are doing. “They’re generally a year to three years ahead of where educational food ends up,” he says. “That’s why we try and stay a little bit ahead of this, and introduce the students in our entities to these things long before they might see them with everyone else.”
Finally, the ultimate measure of success for Twelve Oaks is a clean plate, with every carrot stick or grape enthusiastically consumed. “It’s important that [the students are] finding those things that they enjoy in those meals,” Jones says.