Local foundation helping reinvent lunch at Boston Public Schools

BOSTON — What does Boston-based online furniture giant Wayfair have to do with healthier school lunches in Boston Public Schools? Surprisingly, a lot.

The foundation, run by Jill Shah, wife of Wayfair's co-owner and CEO Niraj Shah, didn't have a background in the food industry. But, they saw the need in Boston, where 65 percent of the students live under the poverty line.

So, they designed and implemented a complete overhaul of how school lunches are made and provided the know-how, long-term plan, and millions of dollars to make it happen.

Many of the Boston Public Schools were built before World War II and only have space for a convection oven that can reheat pre-made meals. Now, thanks to the money and brain power of the Shah Family Foundation, 30 schools are getting brand new kitchens.

"Just a warming oven, plastic wrapped food that I found out later was manufactured in Jersey," said entrepreneur Jill Shah. "We kind of talk about this as 'Blue Apron for school food' where all of the food gets delivered to the school daily to be served the next day."

Shah researched the logistics and operational intelligence, then the Shah Family Foundation provided the funding to get the district's dormant food distribution warehouse back up and running and outfitted 30 schools with brand new appliances.

Now, the cafeteria works are cooking again.

"We added more staff because beforehand we only had one person, now we have up to three people," said Laura Beavidez, executive director of food and nutrition services for Boston Public Schools.

Fifteen percent more students are taking advantage of the free meals because they taste better.

The new "My Way Cafes" will be online by the end of the year and the remaining schools in the district will be done in the next couple of years.