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Sacred Hearts School encourages wellness through its Healthy Lunch Program

By Staff | Nov 8, 2018

Uncle Juan Gomez has led the lunch program at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina for the past six years.

LAHAINA – Sacred Hearts School is working hard to encourage health and wellness amongst students with its lunch program.

The small parochial school located in the center of town neighbors a charming local eatery, Penne Pasta Cafe.

Uncle Juan Gomez, owner of Penne, is entering his sixth year leading the lunch program at Sacred Hearts.

“My favorite part of the day is when I arrive to school at 11 a.m. and see the kids’ smiling faces! They tell me I am the best cook and my food is better than their mom’s! I laugh, but then again, kids always tell the truth, right? It is a lot of work, but also fun and fulfilling for me.”

Approached by an involved parent six years ago, Uncle Juan was told that Aunty Sue, who had prepared the school lunches many years prior and utilized the school’s kitchen, was thinking about retiring.

When she did retire, the school made the decision to outsource. Urged by a couple of parents who were also regulars in his restaurant, his interest was sparked and he applied.

Four restaurants submitted proposals, and Gomez, who submitted on the last day the school was accepting applicants, was the running favorite. The job was his.

Initially overwhelmed by this new experience, Uncle Juan created his first mockup school menu and placed it in the principal’s box for a green light.

He stated that “the first month was the hardest for me. Learning how much food to prepare and how to portion and regulate really is an art. My first lunch dish served for the children of Sacred Hearts was spaghetti and meatballs.”

Juan shared that now, as a tradition, the very first meal to kickoff each school year is spaghetti and meatballs!

Prior to joining Sacred Hearts School, Uncle Juan worked as a partner to a friend and mentor, Restaurateur Mark Ellman, for several years running Penne Pasta Cafe.

After nine years, Juan expressed his desire to run his own restaurant to Ellman, and he encouraged Juan to take over Penne Pasta completely.

He took over Penne Pasta in 2010 and, a couple of years later, the Sacred Hearts lunch program.

Gomez said, “Mark helped make my dream a reality,” and still to this day is there for him when he needs him.

He feels blessed to not only have his dream of being a restaurant owner become a reality, but also to be part of Sacred Hearts School.

He shares the immediate sense of ‘ohana he felt by the faculty and students when he came on board.

Sixth-grader Santos Ramos-Lagunas commented, “Uncle Juan cares for everyone and is so respectful.”

He feels connected to many families at the school, since several are also regulars in his restaurant.

“I remember seeing my customers dining at Penne over the years – first as boyfriend and girlfriend to newlyweds and now with children of their own!”

The weekday mornings for Gomez begin around 7 a.m. with his beloved sister, Martha, and dear friend and associate, Gustavo, steaming rice and cutting fresh fruit and greens.

The kids only receive fresh vegetables and fruits – never canned or frozen. On days when he prepares kalua, the pork roasts overnight. He works hard to use fresh ingredients, like Maui Cattle Company, for his burgers and meatballs and for his brisket in his yummy red sauce.

Sixth-grader Landon Long shared, “Uncle Juan always has a smile on his face and makes amazing food that cleanses my taste buds.”

Sacred Hearts School feels blessed to have Uncle Juan and is proud of the Healthy Lunch Program he provides for the school.

Fourth-grader Summer said, “I love Uncle Juan, because he lets me have seconds!”

To learn more about all that Sacred Hearts School has to offer, visit www.shsmaui.org, call the school office at 661-4720 or e-mail development@shsmaui.org to schedule a tour of the campus.