Faces of OPRF: Jannis Martinez


Nestled in between the North and South Cafeterias inside Oak Park and River Forest High School sits the school kitchen, a large, clean and intricately laid out space where food production for the entire school takes place. And behind every breakfast muffin, orange chicken bowl and chocolate chip cookie that leaves this kitchen there is a worker, a person. Jannis Martinez, a baker on the food staff, is one of many whose job it is to ensure that OPRF is well fed on a daily basis.

Martinez, the bakery department head, has worked at OPRF since 2018. Each day Martinez starts at 6 a.m, when she begins by baking the famed chocolate chip cookies (roughly 1,500 per day!), preparing the soft pretzels and cooking the pizzas. In addition to her work in the kitchen, Martinez also works the registers in both cafeterias during the lunch periods. 

Martinez moved to Oak Park from Kansas 13 years ago. Following the move, she took a job as a veterinary technician before making the switch to the food staff at OPRF. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Martinez touched on how meaningful her relationships with others in the school have been. “It’s the perfect gig,” she said. “I like my coworkers. We’re a team. When someone gets done with something, they move over and help the other person. Everyone takes care of each other.”

Martinez also spoke generously of the admiration she has for the students. “The kids are just so nice. They’re great,” she added, beaming. “I meet the kids, you know, in line and they are so awesome.”

Much more goes into the food prep than one would initially expect. “The hardest part of each day is judging how much food you’re going to sell,” said Martinez. “If the weather’s bad, kids don’t want to go outside so we have to be ready for that. And if there’s an assembly or shortened periods, we don’t need as much.” Martinez also added that for days with food specials, such as the school-favorite orange chicken Wednesdays, the menu is altered slightly so the kitchen staff can direct more resources and attention to the special. 

Cameron Chi, a junior at OPRF, spoke to the value the food staff brings to the school. “I get the school lunch every single day,” Chi stated. “The lunch ladies are always super nice and one of them even knows what I order, which makes it easy for me to get my food and enjoy it.”

In addition to their work during the lunchtime hours, the food staff assumes a handful of other responsibilities. They cater for OPRF school parties and events, provide concessions for many of the sporting games and feed the children in the school nursery. One of the kitchen’s largest and most logistically challenging tasks is supplying food for all of the middle schools and grade schools in both Oak Park and River Forest on a daily basis. “It’s phenomenal,” Martinez observed regarding the whole operation. “My day goes so fast.” 

Aside from her work responsibilities, Martinez has a passion for travel. She has visited about a dozen countries and enjoys collecting art, especially artwork from around the world. She looks forward to spending her summer in Spain but for the time being, is devoted to serving the OPRF community. “A school is always where I want to be,” Martinez said. “The goal at the end of the day is to get every kid fed.”