If you think you’ve got it tough satisfying your customers for two or three bucks a plate, talk to Captain Mike Oviatt. He heads support services, including foodservice, for the main hub of the Utah State Prison in Draper and has been serving meals that cost a miniscule $1.31 a plate. Now he’s being asked to lower that to 80 cents. And if his customers aren’t happy with the food, they don’t write bad reviews. They riot.

Oviatt is new to the foodservice side of his business, but says he’s gotten ideas, inspiration and education from reading about his colleagues in other onsite segments. We thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at one of the most challenging segments of foodservice and Oviatt was happy to share his story.

Tell me about your operations?

We serve about 14,000 meals a day and have close to 4,500 inmates. I oversee four lieutenants and a number of officers who work in my kitchens and we employ 150 inmates to do the cooking. We’ve got two kitchens on site. One does about 1,500 trays per meal and the other about 3,300. We have everything from maximum security to general population and we oversee five halfway houses out in the community. That is the food end of my job.

Are you required to meet any nutritional requirements?

We try to provide a balanced meal and follow federal guidelines for nutritional content. We don’t have to—we get more latitude than federal prisons, but we use their guidelines to avoid lawsuits. We don’t get any federal money, but are governed by RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act), which makes sure we meet different dietary needs, like kosher, halal, vegan and different variations of that for pagan religions.

Give me some examples of meals you serve…

We rotate meals and start the cycle over every four weeks. Like on a Monday for breakfast, we might serve pineapple tidbits, boiled eggs, hash brown patties with ketchup, bread and milk and another day that week we’d do tropical fruit, oatmeal, cheese slice, scrambled eggs, English muffin and milk. A lunch might be Mandarin oranges, sliced turkey, cheese, pudding, bread and sugar-free juice. Another day it could be shredded lettuce, bean and cheese burrito, Spanish rice, cookie and a juice packet. A dinner would be green salad with French or Italian dressing, cheese pizza, green beans, pasta with marinara sauce and milk, or a hamburger patty with gravy, peas, whipped potatoes, cookie, bread and milk.

How much do you spend per meal and how is your budget determined?

That comes through the state and as of 2013, our costs were about $1.31 a meal, but our legislators want to reduce that down to 80 cents. We’re starting to look at second markets and doing opportunity buys and are hoping to see some savings. We’re also making some changes to the menu and have more cold lunches with cold cuts, tuna fish, etc.

You have your own bakery?

We do and bake just bread, but we’re currently looking at adding other things. At another facility in Utah, they do their pizza dough and a lot of different pastries and hamburger buns. Right now we can go through probably 800 to 900 loaves of bread in a day. Being able to do even more would help reduce plate costs.