Just over two years since their re-opening, the Joshua Tree Dining Facility claimed the title of “Best Food Service Program” in the U.S. Air Force when they were awarded the 58th annual John L. Hennessy trophy.
The DFAC received their last Hennessy Award in 2002.
The facility and staff were visited by evaluators from the National Restaurant Association Feb. 17-18 to see their kitchen operations, serving and dining operations, training, personnel and readiness, sanitation repair maintenance and management.
“It’s a normal day for us,” said Paul Martin, 412th Force Support Squadron, Food Service officer.
Randy Spaulding, Rice Services Inc. project manager added, “As long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing each and every day, having a Hennessey evaluation team visit is no different than having an airman basic walk through the door.”
According to Martin, the evaluators see different methods of service at various bases to best suit the base’s mission. What works at Edwards, may not work at another site. Something “very unique” to Edwards is the geographical location of the buildings on base.
“There are some security forces Airmen that work at the [far away] Rocket Lab that we support,” said Martin. “We provide them the meals that are needed, not just a cold meal, but we accommodate above and beyond by preparing them some hot meals. We take time for them because we understand their schedule.”
The facility also tries to accommodate people with dietary restrictions by offering items like veggie burgers and soy milk. The salad bar was expanded with additional greens and they recently included a sandwich bar in the menu options.
“For me the Hennessey is the highlight of everyone’s career that worked in food service. It’s a testimony that a theme can be formed, even in a short time, as long as everybody puts their mind and heart into it,” said Martin.
The team effort that Martin described included more than just the men and women working in the facility. He said base Leadership has been “committed to our Airmen’s needs.” [412th] Civil Engineering ensures that the building is receiving water and power and Contracting makes sure the needs of the contractor are being met.
“Team effort is really the key for us of winning this Hennessey,” said Martin.
Spaulding added, “The evaluators really hounded on our team work, so it was a great feeling to know that we were looking in the right direction.”
Ina Norris is a baker for Rice Services Inc. and has been baking since 1987. In 1995, Norris came to Edwards from the San Diego Coast Guard Station with her husband who serves in the Navy. When the dining facility closed in 2006, she continued to serve the community at Club Muroc until the dining facility re-opened in 2011.
“We are kind of like the moms and dads of the servicemembers away from home,” said Norris. “We make sure they eat right and have good food. They work for us, for the country, so we have to make sure they are well taken care of.”
Norris knows the Airmen who dine in the facility by name and sees them “like a family.”
Maria Bowman, Supervisor, Rice Services, has also been at the DFAC long enough to remember the last Hennessy in 2002. During the time that the facility was closed she worked in lodging.
“The day they called me to come to work we all cleaned this area here, the dining hall,” said Bowman. “I was so happy that we won, it was amazing. Everybody was so nervous.”
Norris added that Rice Services will be creating a coin for all 35 employees working at the DFAC.
Staff Sgt. Mia Johnson, 412th Force Support Squadron, joined the dining facilities team at the end of January.
“You hear about the Hennessey Award, you see it in your training and it’s what you want to try to strive for working in food services,” said Johnson. “To come here and they say, ‘Okay, we’ve already won the first [Hennessy] and we need your help to win the second one,’ that was a great feeling.”
Johnson, who has been in the military six years, stated that she could count on one hand the number of people she knew that were part of a winning Hennessy team.
“It makes me want to be a part of the team and contribute in any way that I can,” said Johnson. “It lets me see that you can work as team. Everything they preach about teamwork, getting the job done, you can do it and I actually see it.”
The team hopes to receive their Hennessy Trophy in May.
“I’m very proud of the dining facility and their hard work and dedication. I think the camaraderie and exceptional customer service towards the dining facility patrons is what set them apart from all of the other nominees for Hennessy,” said Capt. Karena Faust, 412th FSS, Sustainment Services flight commander. “They definitely deserved this award and I know they’ll go on to win many more.”