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New $1.26M lunch contract for North Chicago schools

OrganicLife LLC Chicago-based catering school lunch company recently landed $1.26 millibreakfast lunch contract with North Chicago School District 187. |

OrganicLife LLC, a Chicago-based catering and school lunch company, recently landed a $1.26 million breakfast and lunch contract with North Chicago School District 187. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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For more information on North Chicago District 187’s new food service, OrganicLife, visit

Updated: September 10, 2013 2:39AM

There’s a new food service in town, or rather in North Chicago public schools, and the foodies who run it say healthier eating could help boost student focus, pride and achievement.

“The cafeteria in our opinion is the most important classroom,” said Justin Rolls, chief operating officer of OrganicLife LLC. “Kids that are getting good, nutritious meals are going to be more productive in the classroom.”

The Chicago-based catering and school lunch company recently landed a $1.26 million breakfast and lunch contract with District 187, which is renewable for up to four years at an estimated savings of $500,000. OrganicLife, which replaces Sodexo, is capitalizing on growing national interest in school lunch reform and says it aims to prove that nutritious meals don’t have to mean higher costs for schools or a lack of flavor for kids.

“They came in with a real strong bid and a real healthy alternative,” said district CEO Ben Martindale.

OrganicLife transforms drab cafeterias into inviting restaurants, where students choose entrees from branded food stations including a deli, gyro stand, pizzeria and sushi bar. The company promises on-site preparation with high-quality ingredients, whole grains, fresh produce and sustainably-raised meats.

“People hear ‘organic’ and think it’s going to be tofu and kale,” said Joe Kreeger, OrganicLife vice president. “But we want to make healthy foods more appealing. Our fresh fruit salad is fresh and crisp and clean and kids will eat it.”

“We do it different than most companies,” Rolls said. “We come in and prepare scratch-cooked food and we end up doubling the participation from the previous program. The higher quality helps us provide meals at a more reasonable cost. We don’t try to recreate the wheel. We serve the same types of foods kids like, fresh grilled burgers, hand-tossed pizza, Mexican cantina similar to Chipotle.”

“It sounds like a great idea — different choices,” said Tineesha Coleman, 15, who will enter her sophomore year at North Chicago High School this fall and who gave a tepid review of last school year’s lunch.

“It could have been better,” she said. “Sometimes it was cold. Sometimes they ran out of lunch.”

Coleman, who ate a lot of nachos and steered clear of sandwiches because, she said, the bread or buns were always hard, this year will choose from items like char-grilled, grass-fed beef burger on fluffy brioche bun, four-cheese ravioli with tomato basil sauce and teriyaki chicken bowl with stir-fry vegetables.

OrganicLife, like other public school lunch vendors, will provide free or reduced-cost meals for low-income students who in 2012 accounted for 78 percent of district enrollment of 3,800. The district plans to apply for free lunch for all beginning with the 2014-2015 school year under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act, according to Mike Prombo, District 187 director of finance.

“Everybody deserves good food,” said Prombo, who toured lunchrooms of respective bidders, including districts in Skokie and Niles run by OrganicLife. “I told vendors, ‘I hope you’re on board with this. We expect something good. Nothing icky.’”

OrganicLife CEO/Chef Jonas Falk earned a degree in culinary arts from Kendall College. He worked in the kitchens of five-star restaurants Les Francais and Le Lan under James Beard Award-winning chef, Roland Liccioni. Rolls holds a master’s degree in hospitality management from Roosevelt University, Chicago.

“We’re just a bunch of restaurant guys who didn’t know a whole lot about school food service except we didn’t like the food we ate in school,” Rolls said. “We look at kids as our customers.”

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