Corporate Evolution: In-House Chef Serves Efficiency
The office at the corner of Brazos and Eighth Streets is different: The floor plan is open and the desks communal; beer-pong posters replace motivational ones; and employees are spared the daily query, "What am I going to do for lunch?" Welcome to SpareFoot, where chef Ari Dvorin boosts productivity and feeds the morale of employees every day at lunch.
Hiring company chefs to provide in-house food service options is a relatively new trend in corporate culture. It's a way to bring staff members together and eliminate the time, thought and expense put into figuring out where and what they'll be eating during office hours. The method has proved its merit – this year, SpareFoot was named the best midsize employer to work for by the Austin Business Journal.
"It's something I never realized could be such an awesome perk," Josh Waldrum, SpareFoot SEO Manager says. "It's amazing because now I never have to think about food. I used to spend an hour trying to get through the process and now I just walk up to the fourth floor and there's no thought involved."
Chef Ari (or "Chefari" as the staff calls him) is the brains and talent behind the daily lunches. Though he was trained by The Culinary Institute of America, his passion for cooking developed much earlier during childhood summers in Israel. The love stemmed from simple tasks, such as helping his mother and grandmother peel potatoes and mince garlic. After getting his career start in high-end cuisine of Denver, Dvorin moved to Austin in 2006. Feeling frustrated by the monotony and under-appreciated nature of traditional kitchens, he began working for catering companies such as 34th Street Cafe, Word of Mouth, and 2 Dine 4.
"It's an entirely different thing to work in catering. The menu always changes; the people and venues you're working with are always different. Now I'm constantly moving and prepping food in different areas. I love the execution of moving everything around," he explains.
Diversity is something Dvorin stays true to for his SpareFoot clientele. His rotating, from-scratch menu revolves around daily themes. Monday is comfort food; Tuesday is tacos; Wednesday is international cuisine; Thursday is casual, deli style; and Fridays have a "design your own" bar for items like baked potatoes and mac and cheese. Repetition is rare, and only occurs every two months. I attended an international Wednesday when Italy was the showcase. Being from New Jersey, I'm a snob when it comes to those dishes - and it was delicious. The Italian music playing in the background added an air of authenticity to the meal, as well. This happens everyday – Dvorin plays tunes to match his themes, which sometimes can stray from the traditional.
"He definitely takes me out of my comfort zone," says Marketing Manager Rachel Greenfield. "One day he had Australian cuisine. I didn't even know what that was."
Besides being fun for the employees, company meal plans directly impact functionality of the business. Communal dining increases productivity and morale, helps the employees feel more like a team, and allows them to multi-task when needed. "Typing while eating is quite a talent I've developed," Waldrum says. Email is actually even part of the lunch process – before each meal, a photographer snaps photos of the buffet and sends them out to the employees. This way, they can already have an idea of what they'll be lining up for (though I wonder if salivating over a keyboard is a good idea?).
Practicality aside, Dvorin gains a deeper benefit – satisfaction. "I know that what I do directly affects how these people work," he says. "It makes me feel appreciated and validates my hard work. I feel like part of the team, and I love that."