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Longtime school food services agency head to retire

Posted: August 7, 2014 6:17 p.m.
Updated: August 7, 2014 6:17 p.m.

Pavel Matustik, retiring Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency CEO, reflects on changes in the school food industry during an interview with The Signal. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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Pavel Matustik picked up the pizza-carrying bag, a grin spreading across his face.

He carried it over to a nearby countertop, carefully laid it out, and pointed to the design of a man in profile on the cloth bag’s center. With it were the words “Papa Pavy’s Pizza.”

“That is me,” he said, standing in a Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency kitchen. “This was when I was young and good-looking.”

After more than two decades, Matustik plans to step away as the chief executive officer of the School Food Services Agency — an organization charged with preparing meals for thousands of Santa Clarita Valley school children every school day.

In a recent interview, Matustik was all smiles as he recalled his 21 years with the agency.

But his job wasn’t always a laugh. In fact, when he first arrived in 1993, he walked into an agency that was struggling.

“When they established the agency in 1989 it was a terrific idea, a terrific thought,” he said. “But they started on the wrong foot and this agency was losing money left and right.”

But Matustik may have been uniquely suited to the task of pulling the agency back from any budget brink. After all, he has plenty of experience on how to move on from a bad situation.

Background
Matustik hails from the now-split country of Czechoslovakia.

Growing up in Europe in the aftermath of the two world wars wasn’t easy and, like many living under the thumb of communist rule, he turned his eyes westward.

In 1983, he was able to enter the United States, settling in Southern California.

Once in the States, Matustik made his way into kitchens. He landed a job working as a banquet chef in a hotel in Pasadena and took classes to improve his English.

“It’s a story of a lot of immigrants,” he said. “You come into the country, your language skills are not usually very good.”

Food services
Shortly after coming to the United States, he had his first experience with a freedom he was not accustomed to.

“One of the things in a communist country was that you couldn’t really change your job easily; you had to give six months’ notice,” he said. “Not too many employers would wait for you for six months, so it was really hard.

“So one of the first freedoms I discovered here in the United States is that there is a newspaper with ads for jobs, and then you can apply for any job you want,” he said with a laugh.

It was this job-hunting freedom that helped steer him toward his first job in school food services — as a production supervisor in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

His English still wasn’t the best, and the competition for the position was stiff, but he still won the position.

In 1993, Matustik was hired to helm the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency, which had only recently been created. The agency is a joint-powers body between local elementary school districts.

But as he started work, he realized he had his hands full.

“I walk in in June of 1993, and by October I don’t have enough money to pay the vendors,” he recalled.

Agency
Matustik worked with his team over the years to examine ways to make the agency more efficient and, gradually, the district’s budget began to round back into shape.

One of the biggest changes Matustik said he has seen over the years is the growing demand for healthier meals for the kids.

It’s a trend the agency has embraced, he said, but one that has to be done gradually.

“You can’t one day do a cheeseburger, then start doing a tofu burger,” he said with a laugh. “The kids would run away from you.”

One of the more recognizable results of the move toward healthier food is, fittingly enough, Papa Pavy’s Pizza.
“We started right away with the whole-grain crust and low-fat cheese, so it’s a really healthy pizza,” he said.
Matustik said he anticipates the healthy-eating trend will continue.

“We recognized fairly early that the movement for healthier meals would continue to get stronger and stronger,” he said.

Moving forward
Matustik’s run at the agency will end Aug. 29. Looking back, he said, the experience has been a rewarding one.

“You do something good because you are making meals for kids, and most of those kids really need that meal,” he said.

But it’s not just that. The life he’s built since coming to the United States has made him look back on his own history in a different light.

“It may sound corny, but I felt very grateful to this country that they let me come in and become part of a society,” he said.

“Now, 31 years later, I joke about it and say I spent my life disliking communism,” he added with a laugh. “But without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

 

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