FLUSHING — Forget mystery meat and tasteless hot dogs.
At Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, think fresh chicken cutlets and shish kebab with tzatziki sauce. The school’s meals are high quality — and they are a family affair, too.
Marco Cerbone of Corato Food Service Group, and his father, Marco Sr. — parishioners at St. Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Flushing — have been serving hot meals to the students for almost two school years. Their family-owned business, which started in 1959, also owns two pizzerias, Corato I and Corato II in Ridgewood.
“We’ve always done New York events as caterers, but never a cafeteria line with a school until now. It’s a different experience,” said Marco Jr. Cerbone, who has worked in his family’s business since he was 10 years old. “We want to make noise in the [food] industry, because not many schools provide this quality lunches.”
Now 31, Cerbone loves to work with his father, Marco Sr., who joins him several times a week to help him keep up with Holy Cross’ 650 students, who eat across four lunch periods.
“It’s a joy to be able to serve together at this wonderful school,” Marco Sr. said. “Marco works hard. I’m very proud of him.”
Every morning, Cerbone comes early to Holy Cross to prepare a fresh menu. He bakes fresh bread every day to use for breakfast sandwiches or paninis.
With regular visits to the market for fresh meats and vegetables, Corato Food Service also ensures every meal is healthy.
“We really want that gourmet type of food, rather than just calling up our big distributors to fry up some French fries,” Cerbone said. “We’ve always tried to offer fresh, consistent food and to give a good product; that was always my father’s motto. It’s also brain food, keeping kids’ minds sharp.”
The biggest hit for students so far: fresh, hand-rolled sushi for lunch.
“It keeps things interesting, and I get good feedback,” Cerbone said. “I don’t want anyone to feel like, oh, this again? I want them to keep coming in and keep being surprised.”
Edward Burns, the principal, is a fan.
“It’s like a family member making a meal for them at home,” Burns said. “That’s really the difference the kids feel.
“We hope to give variety as well as nutritional value. We want the students to have the fuel to stay awake and be engaged in class, engaged with their community, and food is absolutely a part of that process,” he said.
For $5 to $8, students can chow down a good breakfast or lunch.
“I think having a good, hot breakfast to start the day keeps your body running, and it’s easy to get while you’re doing your homework, it helps you focus and get ready for the day,” senior Anthony D’Amato said.
“What I like about lunch is that they give us different opportunities when it comes to what we want to eat — they change it up every day. They make sure they listen to what we want and provide,” senior Chase Duncan added.
Freshman Ripley Petrovic said she is relieved that she doesn’t have to worry about getting a great-tasting, healthy meal.
“It’s so much easier for me to work the rest of the day, because I’m on a full stomach. It tastes good, and it’s actually good for you,” she said.
Cerbone said he is inspired by his father, who immigrated to New York from Italy at the age of 14 and instilled in him a hard work ethic.
“Everybody here just wants to see the best for the school community, so whatever it takes to do that, we do,” Cerbone said.