Happy 30th Birthday, Bon Appétit: A Great People Culture, An Open-Source Mentality, and a Taste for Disrupting the Industry

It started with a belief in people — and that hasn’t changed. From the very early years, when Fedele, Michael, and I visited prospective accounts together in California (the one state where we operated), to today, when you’ll likely find Fedele in Chicago or Atlanta and Michael in St. Louis or Boston on any given day, we have built a culture based on a sincere belief in people, and most importantly, in our people making good decisions.

Senior Vice President Cary Wheeland, then and now

Many a competitor has watched and waited for our entrepreneurial, unit-level focus to change, but it hasn’t. That’s because of Fedele’s and Michael’s fervent belief in people, and their drive to promote local decisions by local operators. Bon Appétit was built on an incredible foundation of trust in people, and that fundamental value is a big part of what makes us who we are today.

One of the signs of the vibrancy of our culture is the mark left on staff members who move on. We have “alumni” across America who have an affinity for Bon Appétit; many have their very own Fedele or Michael story. I was heartened recently when I attended a bidder’s meeting and ran into a Bon Appétit alum who cofounded his own food service firm. He fondly reflected on his years with Bon Appétit, and we shared some great memories of his tenure with us.

Bon Appétit’s open-source approach became clear to me back in 1989 when we were opening at Stanford University. Fedele took a competitor by the arm and led him through our kitchen and walk-ins to show what we were doing with fresh produce and “real” stock that was on our stoves. Fedele has always taken the stance that “We have nothing to hide from the competition. Let them copy us! If they do, the industry will be better for it.” And the industry, indeed, has been better for it.

“Many a competitor has watched and waited for our entrepreneurial, unit-level focus to change, but it hasn’t.”

As I see it, we’ve retained an enviable, and remarkable, position in the marketplace: Many companies in our industry want to be like Bon Appétit, but Bon Appétit doesn’t aspire to be like any other company. We’ve never focused on the competition; instead, our focus has really always been on how to take better care of the customer and make a difference in the world.

As we sail past our 30th birthday, I am thankful, and blessed, to have joined an organization led by Fedele, Michael, and Liz back in 1988. Our growth continues unabated as we build on a very special niche of clients who have proudly selected Bon Appétit as their food service partner. Fedele continues on a tear to “disrupt” the industry. Michael continues to assemble an operations team that, without question, represents the best of the best. And Liz continues to be the glue that holds everything together.

Sincere thanks to the 17,000 employees who make it happen for our clients and guests every day.

As I’ve written many times over these past three decades: Onward and upward!


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