Happy 30th Birthday, Bon Appétit: Throwback Thirty

I know “Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) is a big thing on Facebook. Although I’ve never posted anything myself, I enjoy seeing pictures and comments people have from the past.

As I was collecting my thoughts about Bon Appétit’s 30th birthday, I thought it might be fun to review our Bon Appétit beginnings as kind of a Throwback Thirty. Since I’ve had the good fortune to be part of Bon Appétit Management since inception, the growth and changes are all part of the landscape for me. I have been here through each new achievement, each major change, the growth in numbers of employees, each new piece of business and each new territory. It’s just part of what I know as Bon Appétit.

I will date myself a bit, but this is a sampling of what things looked like 30 years ago…

Ronald Reagan was president

A gallon of gas was 96 cents A stamp cost 22 cents

The minimum wage was $3.33

The Cosby Show was the most popular thing on television

The Dow hit 2,000 for the first time

Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Cell phones looked (and felt) like large bricks

We used paper maps and phone books to find people and places

Google would not be founded for another 11 years, and

There was no Internet!

So, what did Bon Appétit look like 30 years ago?

When Fedele and Ernie purchased Bon Appétit Catering, what they got was office space above a meat-packing plant in San Francisco, with a view of the city jail. Furnishings were limited, and Fedele used an old card table for a desk. Included in the sale was a warehouse full of catering décor, which included plastic lobsters and faux reindeer, a mobile kitchen, 115 employees (106 of them part time catering staff) and a lot of vendors who wondered if the new guys were going to make it.

Chief Administrative Officer Liz Baldwin, then and now

What I got was the opportunity of a lifetime. As Fedele’s dream unfolded, we followed, wanting to be part of something better, something exciting, something game-changing. It was hard work, crazy fun, and very rewarding. Everyone felt that they mattered, that what they were doing mattered, and we were told we mattered.

Many things were different in 1987, and we could not have foreseen the changes of the past 30 years. Our 1987 revenue was $2.5 million. Today our revenue is well over a billion dollars. In 1987, we had 9 full-time people. Today we have close to 17,000 employees. Then, we operated only in the San Francisco Bay Area and California. Today we are in 33 states. We have spearheaded numerous initiatives that have changed the face of the food service industry. But what hasn’t changed is the heart of Bon Appétit: the passion for the business, the passion in our people for what they do every day. The heartbeat of our company has only grown stronger.

But what hasn’t changed is the heart of Bon Appétit: the passion for the business, the passion in our people for what they do every day. The heartbeat of our company has only grown stronger.

I don’t often get to tour visitors, but recently I totally lucked out with some really lovely people from various parts of the U.S. and the U.K. As we discussed our culture and history, watching our guests’ experience helped me see the current Bon Appétit through the eyes of others.

I think we’re walking our talk, I think we’re passionate and inspired, I think we’re the absolute best at what we do, but I did wonder, What I would find when our people were put to the test? I could not have been prouder of what we saw and heard.

Everyone was so enthusiastic about their jobs and contributions. I was struck by how young so many of our people are, some had not even been born or were very young when Bon Appétit began in 1987. During the tours, folks who had been with us just a few short years as well as our 15-, 20-, 25-year veterans spoke of what we do and how we do it, with the same passion for food, the same cherished entrepreneurial spirit, the same drive to be ever better. Everyone we spoke with embodied the founding philosophy.

I came away confident that our culture, our beliefs, and the Bon Appétit passion are alive and well. This was not just my impression; it was seen, heard, and experienced by each person on our tour. I believe the correct term would be “they were blown away.”

In May, we had a long overdue senior staff meeting. Our operators had been opening so much business last year it had been impossible to pull away, even for something we need to do. It was one of the best senior staff meetings in memory, more like a family reunion in some ways, perhaps because we hadn’t been together for some time and needed to see each other.

“The last 30 years have passed in an instant. The new challenges we face are hard. But it’s still crazy fun.”

It made me think of our first staff meetings. An early one was in a small conference room off the kitchen at Embassy Suites in Santa Clara. It lasted about three hours, and I believe the attendees totaled nine. The most recent meeting was a getaway in Arizona, lasted three days, and we needed the ballroom space for our meetings. There were rows and rows of chairs to accommodate the 70 people in attendance…a far cry from our humble beginnings.

The last 30 years have passed in an instant. The new challenges we face are hard. But it’s still crazy fun. And it’s ever more rewarding as we grow the company and grow opportunities now for thousands of our Bon Appétit family members. As in all families, there are good times and problems. We celebrate the joyful times in each other’s lives and support each other in times of loss and sadness. We are there for each other when it really matters.

This was never more clear to me than over the past year. There are friends among us who have endured heartbreaking losses and I have watched the support and love that surrounded them. I have been personally supported during a very difficult time, by relationships formed within Bon Appétit. We are more than a company and more than just great teams. This is an enterprise built on love for what we do, and love for each other. We are truly a family.


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