Downtown to Westside
Sep 26, 2019 05:00PM
By Tim Trudell
A sense of community drives Erin Vik. In choosing where to live or work, he looks for a specific feel to drive his decision.
Beginning his career in the food and beverage industry at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Omaha, he appreciated that the hotel was owned by the city at the time. Later, during a stint at Metropolitan Community College, he managed the catering and horticulture programs, where he had a hands-on approach to supporting the school’s culinary program.
While at Metro, Vik became acquainted with his predecessor at Westside, Diane Zipay. Little did he know—as they discussed working together on projects—a year later he’d be replacing her as she headed into retirement.
Today, in his fifth year as the director of Westside Schools’ nutrition program, he has expanded the program’s emphasis on providing healthier food options for students. Vik says that each move has been guided by that feel of community.
“I’m not a politician,” Vik says. “But I want to be involved with things around me.”
His dedication and interest is evident to those who work with him. Westside Superintendent Mike Lucas says he is a huge fan of what Vik does.
“Erin has a tremendous passion for food service,” Lucas says. “He has wonderful experience outside of education and that has translated very well to providing nutritious, sustainable meals for our students.”
Vik relishes the sense of community that Westside has in working with local organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands and Food Bank for the Heartland. The district uses a contract kitchen to cater meals for these organizations, as well as other schools outside the district, and elementary schools and select meals (i.e. gluten-free) within the district.
“I find it enriching, what we do in the city,” Vik says.
Vik and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 11 years and have an 8-year-old daughter, Isabel. Though they knew they wanted to be involved with their child’s school, when the Viks bought their house in the Westside district they had no idea he’d end up running the nutrition department. So, their move ended up being doubly positive for the whole family.
Living in the school district where he works, Vik says he expects neighbors to discuss concerns with him, adding that neighborhood kids are quick to let him know when they like the menu and when they don’t.
“He’s a parent in our school district, and he’s very accessible, very open-minded,” Lucas says. “[He] does a great job of communicating with staff, parents, and community.”
Vik says he enjoys receiving feedback from people, because it helps in managing the 80-plus employees he oversees, which is no small feat.
According to Lucas, the department serves about 5,000 student meals a day within the district, and an additional 6,200-plus meals outside the Westside district. “So Erin is overseeing over 11,000 meals a day,” Lucas says. “He’s very organized.”
At home, the self-professed foodie is a little looser when it comes to planning meals. Vik says he enjoys creating dishes, but neither he nor Jennifer have a favorite meal, so they enjoy experimenting in the kitchen.
“I’m like, ‘What do you feel like having tonight?’” he says. And they go from there.
Vik’s foodie style does make its way into the office. While Westside previously offered fresh salads, Vik has expanded the Westside district’s program to encourage more diverse healthy dining options for students. This includes working with local farmers and distributors to provide locally sourced fruits and vegetables, as well as creating dishes such as pasta and lasagna from scratch. He encourages chefs and cooks to be creative with meal planning.
“We started a ramen bar,” Vik says. “I was a little scared. Some of the folks in the kitchen realized it was a new concept. They visited [ramen places] and saw what the products looked like in the restaurants. And they did a really good job.”
Visit westside66.org for more information.This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.