District Manager Hays Atkins
Location: Austin, Texas
Number of people fed each day: 2,800
With Bon Appétit Management Company since: 2001
Farm to Fork Farmer: Johnson's Backyard Garden
“It takes a lot of persistence to forge connections with small producers. Sometimes farmers don’t believe that a big company can be serious about supporting what they’re doing. When we offer to buy an entire harvest of tomatoes that a particular farmer needs to move immediately, and write our menus to accommodate each new delivery, we build trust…the farmers start to talk to each other. And slowly, slowly, we develop networks of producers to supply our local foods.”
Why I work with food:
I’ve worked in kitchens close to 20 years—first as a prep cook in a Mexican restaurant in my home town, and later, in high school, as an assistant chef in one of
What sustainability means to me:
Sustainable sourcing makes us focus on seasonality and current conditions in the environment, such as climate change and the state of industrial agriculture. Maintaining that focus is a harmonious way of cooking and producing food. Our sourcing policies give us another opportunity to talk to our clients and food and it opens up a dialogue about other issues related to food. And that’s when interesting things start to happen. After I explain to someone why there are no strawberries in January, the person will often come back days later and say they thought more about our conversation. It gets the wheels turning about how food impacts everyone and about their involvement in the food system. Then, the person might mention that there’s this little farmer that I might like to meet that lives down the road and grows the best okra. I love visiting the farms with staff, learning about the producer’s experiences and struggles, and continuing those connections. And on a personal level, it brings me back to my roots. My grandfather had a huge garden when I was a kid and he taught me the importance of growing food.
Why Bon Appétit Management Company is Different:
I’ve never encountered a company in which the philosophy is built around the food; where all the executives were one time working chefs who understand what you do every day. The first time I met CEO Fedele Bauccio, he just wanted to walk around the kitchen and find out what we were having for lunch. He tasted everything and talked to every employee. It was all about the food. That visit speaks volumes about the kind of leader he is and that kind of attention is very validating to the people on the ground working.