Roy McNeill glides around the large industrial kitchen with ease at the Cody Child Development Center on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Gleaming stainless work tables, ovens, the pantry and even the dishwashing area are extremely familiar to McNeill. He drops by frequently to check on the people he supervises, orders supplies and manages an array of other important issues dealing with the preparation and serving of two hot meals and one snack that 380 children consume five days each week at the largest child development center in the entire Department of Defense.
When McNeill was growing up in Dunn, N.C., he was introduced to the hospitality industry; however, his introductory cooking lessons were taught by the women in his Family.
“I grew up with a single mom, sisters and aunts,” McNeill said. “My mother was a maid at a hotel, so when I was 13, I started working after school there. The only problem with that was my mother was my boss.” He said he was hanging around the hotel kitchen and eventually was hired as a dishwasher where he watched the staff cook meals. By senior year in high school, he became a line cook and evening supervisor at another business.
Despite no formal educational training, McNeill continued working in the hospitality industry when he relocated to the National Capital Region where a relative lived, so he could attend school at Northern Virginia Community College.
“I earned associate’s degrees in both business and food services management,” he said. While attending school, the young McNeill worked three jobs – as a work study student on campus, as a grill cook in a restaurant at night, and then at a local hotel on weekends as a line cook — to afford rent and other bills.
“Life started – I got married and had children [two daughters and a son], and I worked in hospitality [hotels and country clubs] during those years – in environments where people had fun. But I worked every evening, all weekend and on holidays,” said McNeill.
Continuing his education, McNeill got his bachelor’s degree in business management at Southeastern University in Washington, D.C.
“I worked at the Noncommissioned Officers Club on Fort Myer 22 years ago, from 1981 to 1989 as a sous chef,” he said. “It was lively here back in the ’80s – when we had discos. I also worked over at Fort McNair.” While working various jobs through Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, McNeill said he also helped with the closing of Army installations Cameron Station and Arlington Hall Station.
Once Arlington Hall closed, McNeill went to work in the private sector, working in institutionalized food service as the assistant food service director at Northern Virginia Doctor’s Hospital in Arlington, Va.
“The director there was a retired E7 who retired at Fort Myer,” said McNeill. “I learned a lot from this guy. He groomed me to take over his position and when he left two years later, I took over as the director over 32 employees of a 350-bed hospital.”
McNeill said his former boss at the hospital, Wilson Thomas, became his mentor and the two remain in contact today.
After 10 years at the hospital, McNeill continued working as food service director for various hospitals and continuing-care facilities in the NCR, including Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Southern Maryland. “After two years there, an opportunity came up with a major catering company to manage their retail operations,” he said.
Starting as a retail operations manager in the cafeteria at Fairfax Hospital (an 800-bed facility), McNeill said, “We went through a $300 million dollar renovation, and I changed the cafeteria from the old- style cafeteria line to a food court- style facility. Sales went from $13,000 to $21,000 daily, and I directly managed 68 of the 200 employees in the food service department.”
Promoted from retail operations to general manager and then to retail manager over Eastern Atlantic operations in six states from 2002-2010, McNeill continued to excel in his career while also completing his master’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix, during his last few years with the company.
A product of the downturn in the economy, he was part of the company’s reduction in forces in 2009.
“This is when I started working for the [International Culinary Schools at the] Art Institutes, Washington, D.C., location, as a part-time instructor,” said McNeill. “I’ve been teaching there about three years now.”
McNeill said he felt with his employment history, job experience and advanced education, he would have no problem finding a job.
“That wasn’t the case. It took me about a year to find full-time employment here at the CDC,” he said. “I still had the part-time job as an instructor, but not a full-time job. This was the first full-time offer of employment I had,” he said.
“I came in as a cook full-time with the understanding that I had to continue teaching and would work around my teaching schedule,” said McNeill, who teaches career development, finance and other business management courses at the Art Institutes.
McNeill has worked as a non-appropriated fund employee of JBM-HH’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation at the CDC for two years. Although he feels like he’s bragging on himself and doesn’t like to toot his own horn, McNeill said he’s improved the quality of food at the center.
“We prepare meals Family-style so the staff serves each child. Two days each week are devoted to a specialty menu – with international meals served one day and vegetarian meals served another. The other three days, lunch is a variety of meals.
“We also take into account substitute foods for children with allergies – whether they’re allergic to nuts, wheat or dairy [in preparing the meals],” said McNeill.
In addition to preparing menus in accordance with USDA guidelines, McNeill said the menus are also approved by JBM-HH’s dietician and nutritionist, Beth Triner.
The chef said his greatest joy is working around the children.
“I came up with the Two-Bite Club, and I read the kids this book about taking two bites of each food on their plate.” McNeill enjoys educating the kids on making good nutritional decisions while entertaining them. “Then I ask them if they want to be a member of my club and I present each of them with a Two-Bite club certificate,” he said. “It’s become very popular.”