The first few weeks of September were very tough for many members of our Bon Appétit family. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma crushed houses, flooded roads, destroyed cars, and closed facilities and schools. (See “Stories from the Storms.”) But these storms also brought out the best in our people, as they pulled together to do what needed to be done — to feed people a hot meal in a safe space.
In emergencies, people expect our cafés to be open. Our teams often must set aside their worries about their own families, pets, and houses to find a way to come to work, if it’s safe. Because we have a job to do. Whatever it takes, we take care of our communities.
I remember the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area. Bon Appétit was only a few years old, but we had a number of accounts in the area. We didn’t have cell phones then, and the phones weren’t working. Fedele, Liz, and I were frantically trying to reach people to make sure they were all right.
“In emergencies, people expect our cafés to be open. Our teams often must set aside their worries about their own families, pets, and houses to find a way to come to work, if it’s safe. Because we have a job to do. Whatever it takes, we take care of our communities.”
After checking on our people, we thought about how we could best help. Back then, we had a large mobile kitchen. We sent the kitchen, loaded with food, along with many of our chefs and managers to help feed the emergency workers and affected people in the Marina area of San Francisco. Our folks volunteered to help throughout the crisis.
We worked through the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California, too, many of our accounts again reaching out to assist emergency workers and displaced persons. At that time we were bidding on a new piece of education business. This account was not able to get any food deliveries for students from their current provider. Senior Vice President Cary Wheeland reached out to a relatively new general manager, J.P. Dozier (now our Director of Finance), at Tropicana Gardens in Santa Barbara. J.P. rented a truck, stocked it with food from the local Jordano’s grocery store, and drove to this account. He had to get past police blockades and through closed freeways to accomplish this. He arrived at the account about 1 a.m., where the college president himself helped unload the truck. And yes — we did win the business.
In April 2013, during the chaotic aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology went on lockdown that night, following the shooting of a campus police officer. The next morning, the suspects were still loose and there was no public transit. Everyone was being told to shelter in place, yet our team still had to find a way to feed hundreds of students. Our then-controller, Marietta Lamarre (now General Manager at Colby College), worked the line alongside a utility worker in a chef’s coat. When a supervisor tried to thank a temporary worker for the long hours she put in, she said, “You don’t thank me today. We’re not here to make money right now. Today, we’re here for the students.”
You can read more about how our people were there for the students of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL; Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA, and Atlanta; and Emory University in Atlanta and Oxford, GA. And for the employees of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in Miami and of Phillips 66 in Houston.
All of these stories have a couple things in common. Even in an emergency, Bon Appétit people take their jobs seriously, but it’s not because they’re afraid of losing them — it’s because they care about the people they feed. We take that responsibility, those relationships, seriously.
Our guests and our clients are people we see every day — they are a part of our family, too. In an emergency, we have the food and water supplies, the emergency generators (usually) to power the lights, Internet, walk-in coolers, and the air conditioning. They count on us to provide a place of normality amidst the chaos, to take care of them. And time and after time, we have.
I am proud of all of you who pulled together in the face of these extraordinary circumstances. You went above and beyond, often at personal cost. Thank you for all that you did — and for all that you do, every day.