The Power of Ten
These noncommercial-foodservice leaders bring out-of-the-ordinary ideas, passion and energy to the industry’s continuing evolution.
By Kristina Buchthal, Senior Editor, Scott Hume, Executive Managing Editor,
and Erin J. Shea, Associate Editor
New York City Schools
Chartwells School Dining Services
University of Montana
San Jose State University
University of California-Berkeley
Southern Foodservice Management Co.
Gadsden Independent School District
Bon Appétit Management Co.
Even though he’s responsible for 860,000 meals a day (that’s about 355,000 more than Tavern on the Green serves all year), David Berkowitz makes it part of his mission to bring creative flair to school foodservice. The executive director of SchoolFood Restaurants for the New York City Department of Education installed an executive chef to create recipes and fine-tune flavors in school lunches.
Who: David Berkowitz
What: Executive director
Where: New York City Department of Education, Office of School Food Services
Why: Creating innovative approaches at the nation’s largest district-run school foodservice operation.
“I want parents and students to think of our dining rooms as restaurants, not cafeterias.”
—David Berkowitz, New York City Department of Education
“I want parents and students to think of our dining rooms as restaurants, not cafeterias,” Berkowitz says.
A former vice president for Aramark’s healthcare division in the Northeast, he borrows private-sector innovations for the school system.
Under Berkowitz’s leadership, SchoolFood has hired a regional chef for each New York City borough to oversee food production and train cafeteria workers. It issued uniforms to all 9,000 foodservice employees, and is swapping older decorations and rectangular foam trays for new signage, salad bars and creative meal packaging.
SchoolFood hires a folk band to stage concerts at schools, where they sing about nutrition and healthy eating. Berkowitz says the music “creates a lot of buzz.”
In high schools, which generally have lower foodservice participation rates, SchoolFood has seen a 15% increase in sales due to new menu items, salad bars and promotions such as an iPod giveaway.
“We tell parents who send a brown bag with their kids that they would get a more nutritious meal from SchoolFood that is more affordable.”
As president of Chartwells School Dining Services, Keith Cullinan spearheads the contractor’s Balanced Choices, a program that serves healthful school breakfasts and lunches, stocks vending machines with healthful snacks and incorporates a classroom curriculum for teaching students about nutrition and how to choose healthy foods.
Who: Keith Cullinan
Where: Chartwells School Dining Services, Rye Brook, N.Y.
Why: Leading the contractor’s plan to create healthier school meals and teach children about healthful dining options.
“In some larger, urban districts, the food we serve students might be the only meal they get all day.”
—Keith Cullinan, Chartwells School Dining Services
The curriculum, which Chartwells will include in meal-contract service later this year, enables its 4,000 client schools to comply with the 2004 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which places tighter restrictions on school nutrition and education.
“In some larger, urban districts, the food we serve students might be the only meal they get all day. You want to make sure it’s as well-balanced and nourishing as possible,” Cullinan says.
Chartwells has been working to improve the nutrition content of its menus and to remove some foods entirely. It eliminated the use of margarine and oils containing trans-fatty acids in October 2005.
“Nutrition was always based around the center of the plate. If students chose a healthy entrée but selected the wrong side dishes, it took away from [the meal’s nutrition],” he says. “Now the entire meal has been balanced. Everything has been calculated.”
Cullinan is a former president of the eastern division of Eurest Dining Services, owned by Chartwells’ parent company, London-based Compass Group. In 1998, he helped Compass organize its school dining company, Chartwells, and became its president.
Since then, Chartwells has grown from serving 85 school districts and generating revenue of $75 million to working with 550 school district clients and reporting approximately $500 million in annual sales.
Cullinan visits 30 to 40 campuses each year. “When I’m in a school I always have lunch at one of the tables with the kids,” he says. “I sit down and talk to them to see if there’s anything we can do to make dining better for them.”
Carol Bracken-Tilley keeps maintenance crews busy, knowing that a fresh coat of paint on the walls somehow makes food in Motorola’s dining halls taste better.
Who: Carol Bracken-Tilley
What: Manager of hospitality services
Where: Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Ill.
Why: Directing her company
to renovate dining areas and create healthful menus for its 30,000 employees.
“Time and time again it’s proven to me that if your space looks good, everything falls into place.”
As manager of hospitality services, she makes it a priority not just to serve tasty meals to Motorola’s 30,000 employees but also to dish them up in nice settings. By renovating two to three dining facilities a year, she has increased traffic and heard a lot of praise.
“It’s the same soup and the same pizza, but in a new environment,” Bracken-Tilley says. “Time and time again it’s proven to me that if your space looks good, everything falls into place. You’ll be surprised what a little imagination and a lot of paint can do.”
In overseeing Motorola’s foodservice, operated by Compass Group, Bracken-Tilley has worked to make employee meals more healthful, reducing calories in traditional favorites and offering new, healthier choices. Pasta with cream sauce, vegetables and andouille sausage, a top seller, once had 1,450 calories. By switching to tomato sauce, reducing the amount of sausage and adding more vegetables, Motorola’s chefs cut calories to 900.
“Cutting 500 calories is a lot,” she says. “But I’d like to get everything down to a 700-calorie range. More and more employees want to eat better.”
A former foodservice manager for Motorola’s eastern division, she took the overall reins in 2001 when Motorola divested its foodservice operation and contracted with Compass Group.
In 2006, Bracken-Tilley will choose a foodservice contractor for Motorola’s seven dining locations in Europe, and another to provide food for the company’s six Asian sites, a move that will give Motorola better control over food quality and pricing, she explains.
“When we do have a problem, that contractor is going to fix it more readily because there is so much at stake for them,” she says.
Some of the University of Montana’s most challenging classes are conducted in Tom Siegel’s kitchen.
The certified executive chef has conquered the problems of attracting and retaining talented employees by offering opportunities for professional development. The Culinary Skills Workshop Series he implemented introduces staffers to an array of global flavors, ideas and techniques. The school’s 10-step Culinary Professional Career is so well structured that the state has adopted it as a model.
Who: Tom Siegel
What: Certified executive chef
Where: University of Montana, Missoula
Why: An understanding that foodservice professionals want careers, skills and futures, not just paychecks.
“I realized that a lot of our cooks didn’t go to culinary school. They were missing the rudiments of technique.”
—Tom Siegel (r.), University of Montana
Siegel’s experience at a 1998 regional culinary-skills workshop organized by the National Association of College and University Food Services convinced him that the entire dining-services staff could benefit from similar instruction.
“I realized that a lot of our cooks didn’t go to culinary school. They were missing the rudiments of technique,” he says. He realized, too, that providing such training could be a powerful recruitment lure.
To prepare, Siegel attended classes at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., where he refreshed his cooking skills and picked up pointers on how the pros teach. Back in Montana, he organized the first three-day workshop, covering hot-food cooking skills. “I promised the staff that if they got through soups, stocks and sauces, we’d get into some fun ethnic stuff,” Siegel says.
Classes on Mediterranean/Vegetarian, Authentic Mexican, Vibrant Cuisines From Hot Climates (including Southeast Asian) and American Heritage Cuisine and Barbecue round out the series, with Siegel’s chefs now leading workshops.
The culinary career program formalizes Siegel’s vision of providing employees with serious professional education. Depending on skill level, employees are assigned starting points on the 10-step ladder and may advance a step every six months if approved by a supervisor. A 4.5% pay increase accompanies each step up.
“I have young chefs who took pay cuts to come here,” Siegel says. “They did it for the learning and for the chance to become certified. It’s something that sets working here apart.”
Michele Gendreau knows how to find out what students want to eat on campus: She checks out where they’re going when they leave.
Who: Michele Gendreau
What: Director of dining services
Where: Spartan Shops at San Jose State University, San Jose, Calif.
Why: Continues to adapt dining selections to consumer tastes, overseeing multiple food concepts and franchises on a commuter campus.
“Many people leave campus to walk to a restaurant. You have to see where they‘re going.”
—Michele Gendreau, San Jose State University
That’s how Gendreau, director of dining services for Spartan Shops at San Jose State University, got the idea to introduce Noodle Bowl, a pho (Vietnamese soup) restaurant, and C’est Bon, a French crperie concept, on campus.
At a commuter college, it’s a constant challenge to get students to stay on site for meals. The student body at San Jose State is older than that at most universities—the average age is 26—and many aren’t interested in purchasing meal plans at Spartan Shops’ one residential dining hall. Of San Jose State’s 30,000 students, 1,300 are on meal plans.
So Gendreau’s mission is to decipher the changing tastes of college students and serve them their favorite foods.
“Many people leave campus to walk to a restaurant,” Gendreau says. “You have to see where they’re going. If they’re going to get pho, you put in pho. If they’re going to a taqueria, you have to install a taqueria.”
In the last several years, Spartan Shops has introduced multiple new proprietary restaurants, including sushi bars, a hot entrée line and two Mexican outlets. Spartan Shops also operates five franchise restaurants: Burger King, two Subway locations, Jamba Juice and Sbarro.
The campus convenience store sells prepared soups, salads and sandwiches. And new hot entrée lines serve macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and other comfort foods.
“Retail is very big because we have 1,500 campus apartments with full kitchens, and those residents don’t want to be on meal plans,” Gendreau says.
University of California-Berkeley has a proud history of vocal agitation for change. Shawn LaPean has shown just how much positive change can be achieved through quiet dedication.
Who: Shawn LaPean
What: Director, Cal Dining
Where: University of California-Berkeley
Why: Proving that tight budgets don’t prevent taking bold actions that serve customers.
“My mandate was to create foodservice programs that match the excellence of the academic community in which we operate.”
—Shawn LaPean, University of California-Berkeley
In his three years as the university’s foodservice director, he has altered not only the substance of its meal programs but also student perceptions. “My mandate was to create foodservice programs that match the excellence of the academic community in which we operate,” LaPean says. “We’ve begun the improvement process, but we’re not the best [campus foodservice department in the nation] yet.”
No dining-services locations were open later than 7 p.m. when LaPean arrived at Cal. Labor schedules were rearranged (in consultation with unions) to accommodate 2 a.m. closings and to free budget money to upgrade foods. “Students eat with us two times a day. If you ate in your home kitchen twice a day, think how monotonous it could be,” LaPean says of his push to increase food variety and quality (including 95%-organic salad bars).
LaPean created a new identity for the foodservice department—Cal Dining—so it feels mre a part of the campus and then worked to back that brand with programs of which Cal’s 33,000 students and 12,000 faculty and staff can be proud. New points-based meal plans enable students (including nonresident students) to eat anywhere on campus. Chuck Davies—a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America—was recruited as assistant director and executive chef, and additional chefs were hired to oversee individual dining locations.
Further boosting perceptions of the dining programs has been LaPean’s efforts to make the department as environmentally friendly as possible. Initially the central Crossroads dining hall was certified as a Bay Area Green Business by Alameda County and now all four dining halls are officially “green.”
Meal-participation has increased more than three-fold—it now serves more than 2 million meals annually—under LaPean’s leadership, but he’s only getting started. “I have this thing that we’re never good enough,” he says. “I’ll ask students where they last ate and how it was because we’re only as good as that last meal.”
Michael Barclay makes it his mission to harness the Internet’s power and reach to the benefit of corporate foodservice.
Who: Michael Barclay
What: Senior vice president, marketing and administration
Where: Southern Foodservice Management Co., Birmingham, Ala.
Why: Leading the contractor’s efforts to better integrate technology into client services.
“You’re going to see more clients looking for ... tailored operations that come from a middle-tier company like ours.”
—Michael Barclay, Southern Foodservice Management Co.
As senior vice president for marketing and administration, Barclay has led the creation of Southern Foodservice Management’s iCafe Web page, which allows corporate employees to see the nutritional values of menu items. The Web site also features a feedback function that allows customers to critique the food and service and offer menu suggestions. In addition, Southern offers CaterNet, a Web site that allows customers to place catering orders online.
Not every client wants interactive components as part of their foodservice contract. But Barclay hopes that the company’s technology capabilities can help Southern differentiate itself from larger foodservice competitors.
“You’re going to see more clients looking for an alternative [to big contractors] and seeking the responsiveness and tailored operations that come from a middle-tier company like ours,” he says.
A 30-year veteran of the company, Barclay also oversees Southern’s efforts to add new business. Under his guidance the company recently inked contracts with Daimler-Chrysler operations in Dallas and BioMérieux, a Raleigh, N.C., biometrics company with 1,500 employees.
Southern also took its first university foodservice client, Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, Ga., earlier this year. Barclay says that although Southern’s strength lies in its corporate-dining services, the company is bidding on more contracts for small and private colleges.
“Even larger colleges are not a target for us right now,” Barclay explains. “We don’t have the background that says we can handle that, so we’ll wait to jump into the deep end of the pool.”
Promoting healthful eating isn’t just a goal for Deborah Hecker, it’s a strategy.
Who: Deborah Hecker
What: Vice president of strategic planning; chair of the Sodexho Wellness Council
Where: Sodexho USA, Gaithersburg, Md.
Why: Focusing on future challenges and how best to provide and promote healthful eating in schools, healthcare facilities and corporate offices.
“By the fact that I chair the Wellness Council, you can determine that we’ve identified wellness as a key issue.”
—Deborah Hecker, Sodexho USA
As chair of the Sodexho Wellness Council, Hecker helps Sodexho USA’s dietitians and foodservice directors exchange ideas about how to improve food and menus. And as the contractor’s vice president of strategic planning, she is responsible for helping the company identify trends, consumer needs and emerging markets for business.
“By its very nature, strategic planning isn’t something I can talk much about,” Hecker says. “But by the fact that I chair the Wellness Council, you can determine that we’ve identified wellness as a key issue in the market.”
The company recently opened its first Sodexho Wellness and Nutrition Center in Denver and Palm Desert, Calif. The centers offer multiple services, including weight management, nutrition therapy, counseling, sports nutrition and metabolic testing.
Started by Sodexho in 2004, the Wellness Council also focuses on nutrition education and encouraging customers to make healthy choices. On college campuses, the contractor has begun providing nutrition information in cafeterias and dormitories, helping freshmen to avoid gaining weight when they arrive at school, Hecker says.
Additionally, Sodexho has introduced healthful menu options and vending-machine selections. And members of the council discuss the best ways to meet needs of the differing populations—from school children to seniors—they serve.
“We have customers from 6-year-old first-graders to 85-year-old residents in a retirement community,” Hecker says. “The way you educate and support a senior woman who is at risk for osteoporosis is very different from how you care for a child who you want to be getting outside for exercise in addition to eating well.”
While marketing may be the last thing on the mind of someone at the helm of a school nutrition program, for Demetrious Giovas it is the natural focus.
Who: Demetrious Giovas
What: Student nutrition program director
Where: Gadsden Independent School District, Sunland Park, N.M.
Why: Takes a commercial approach to noncommercial foodservice by constantly testing new products and introducing concepts. Boasts a high participation rate.
“You’ve got to add foods that kids will like. You can’t have a menu that’s been around since Adam and Eve.”
—Demetrious Giovas, Gadsden Independent School District
“If we want kids to participate in the program, we have to create a look that makes them feel as though they are eating in a restaurant,” he says.
This approach has paid off for Giovas, student nutrition program director for Gadsden Independent School District, whose program boasts 94% participation. With logo, color scheme and dress code separate from the schools, Gadsden’s program speaks to the students’ needs to feel “like you’re giving them a choice not dictated by the school,” he explains.
Nevertheless, selling the program to 14,000 students split among 22 schools in this rural farming community while maintaining dietary regulations is Giovas’ biggest challenge. The secret, he says, is understanding his audience.
“For upper grades we set up the cafeterias to resemble a mall food court,” he explains. “Every station features a different kind of cuisine and items they’re familiar with.”
Taking a cue from such concepts as McDonald’s, Giovas has introduced salad shakers to his menu in order to entice students to make healthier choices. At the same time, he knows that popular foods such as breakfast burritos will encourage student participation in the program. Innovation, he says, is key.
In 2005, Giovas introduced The Bistro, a concept that serves as a test kitchen for the entire district. Taking inspiration from menu items found in commercial and noncommercial markets, Giovas and his staff modify dishes to meet the school’s nutrition standards and regularly introduce new items to the menu rotation.
“You’ve got to add foods that kids will like. You can’t have a menu that’s been around since Adam and Eve,” he says. “I’m a big believer that you just don’t get a product and throw it in front of the kids.”
Freshness, local sourcing and healthful eating are popular buzzwords in foodservice but they have been cornerstones of contractor Bon Appétit Management Co.’s (BAMCO) corporate mission since it began 18 years ago.
Who: Fedele Bauccio
What: Co-founder and chief executive officer
Where: Bon Appétit Management Co., Palo Alto, Calif.
Why: An early and energetic supporter of sustainable agriculture and an opponent of antibiotics and inhumane practices.
“I’m proud of the stands we have taken and the alliances we’ve made. I believe that there are many farms that could not have survived without us.”
—Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit Management Co.
“We started with the premise that we would prepare fresh food from scratch and never view it as a commodity,” says Fedele Bauccio, BAMCO co-founder and chief executive officer. “There are no recipe cards and menu cycles. We customize each location with its own chef who draws from local, seasonal resources as much as possible.”
BAMCO was ahead of consumer demand with its determination to provide fresh, locally grown foods, a mission that initially required some selling to clients, Bauccio says. They now enthusiastically support programs such as last September’s Eat Local Challenge, when BAMCO called on its chefs at 190 contract locations to prepare lunch menus using only ingredients sourced within a 150-mile radius.
Fresh is good; even better is food that is free from antibiotics and pesticides and that is humanely produced, says Bauccio. He works hard to partner with suppliers that meet BAMCO’s high standards. Having already announced it will not buy chicken or pork raised using medically important antibiotics, BAMCO in November 2005 extended the policy to turkeys. Within a year it will purchase only cage-free shell eggs.
BAMCO could move more quickly if drug-free meat were more easily sourced, Bauccio says, but he is optimistic that supplies will continue to increase.
“I’m proud of the stands we have taken and the alliances we’ve made,” Bauccio says. “I believe that there are many farms that could not have survived without us.”