I’m writing this note the day after wrapping our 2017 Bon Appétit Senior Staff meeting. I find myself reflecting on some key milestones and the people who got us to where we are today.
You all know by now Fedele started the Bon Appétit journey 30 years ago. I’ve had the personal pleasure of working with Fedele for over 35 years. I will never forget the day he charged passionately into the Velvet Turtle Restaurant I was managing in 1982. It was part of a classy fine-dining restaurant chain founded by Wally Botello that had been acquired by Saga Corp., where Fedele was the president of the business & industry group (corporate dining). A dyed-in-the-wool restaurateur, Fedele had just taken over Saga’s specialty restaurant group, which held brands including the Velvet Turtle, Larry Mindell’s Spectrum Group restaurants, Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus, Spoons Bar & Grill, and others.
I knew Fedele was coming to visit, but I had no idea what to expect. I had never met such a passionate and energetic person. He greeted every single hourly associate, the chefs, and the catering manager and tasted several items by the time I emerged from taking inventory in the walk-in cooler.
He said, “You must be Rob. I’ve reviewed your numbers, met your staff, looked at your facility, and you have one hell of an operation. If we can just bottle what you are doing here we can turn this whole damn chain around. I’ve got my eye on you! Gotta go now.” All of this in just 15 minutes.
Thirty-five years later he has not slowed down a bit. Driven by a vision and fueled by passion, Fedele has turned a small catering company into an industry-leading juggernaut that works hard to do good for its clients, customers, associates, and community.
In the early days we often spoke of the “magic” of Bon Appétit. Most observers and competitors could not understand how we managed to execute Fedele’s vision, which was revolutionary. He was a true disruptor long before being one was cool. No manuals, no recipes — just passionate restaurant and hospitality types who tapped into Fedele’s dream. Damn the critics; full-speed ahead we ran.
“Fedele has turned a small catering company into an industry-leading juggernaut that works hard to do good for its clients, customers, associates, and community.…No manuals, no recipes — just passionate restaurant and hospitality types who tapped into Fedele’s dream.”
It became apparent to me very early on the magic lives in our people. Fedele dreams it, and we find some way to deliver it. Led by Fedele’s brother Michael, our president and a remarkable leader in his own right, our operators and associates continue to deliver on the dream today as they have done for 30 years. Despite constantly evolving and the ever-increasing demands of the business, these committed hospitality warriors put on their chef coats, cut gloves, safety shoes, and passionate smiles to fend off any obstacles that stand between them and delivering on the Dream, day in and day out. They are the real heroes and the foundation of our success.
I have achieved a couple personal milestones recently. Last night I celebrated my 25th anniversary at Bon Appétit with the 70 members of our senior staff. I was really moved as Fedele and Michael recognized folks who have been with Bon Appétit from 5 to 30 years, many of whom have grown up through the ranks. It’s amazing how we still function as a professional family despite all of our growth. Great leadership combined with common goals and passion is a powerful recipe for success.
We also announced my plan to retire. I cannot express my feelings in words — I can only say it was the most difficult announcement I have ever made. At age 65, it is just my time.
It has been a terrific run filled with so many memories. So many great people and a hell of a lot of wonderful food. To say there were challenges is an understatement, but I always found strength in our leadership team and all of our associates. There is nothing they cannot overcome. I have worked in several other organizations over the years, and in comparison I can honestly say our sometimes crazy family of gifted professionals is truly extraordinary. Yes we may bicker internally from time to time, but I dare anyone to try to come between us. They do not stand a chance. Our team is united by a belief in delivering the Dream and continuously strengthening our brand. Our team is that good. Not perfect, but absolutely wonderful!
I plan to be around through the end of the year and I hope to thank as many of our staff and clients as I can. You all have meant so much to me.
Thanks for a great ride!