“Corporate” Chefs + Productivity: The Startup That Eats Together Stays Together

By    August 1, 2013

chickpeas

About 65 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks or don’t take a break at all, according to an online survey by human resources consulting firm Right Management. For growing startups in particular, where typical days involve meetings, emails, endless to-dos and random surprises solvable only with improvisation, having a “real lunch” is a pipe dream that only ever occurs once in a blue moon–or at least when the internet goes down.

Last year, Entrepreneur.com asked 10 different startups about their lunchtime habits. While most aspired to having a designated lunchtime where they could catch up with their colleagues, few actually had the time to do so.

The importance of taking some time to eat lunch away from the desk has been covered by everyone from LifeHacker, to Quartz, to Fast Company. Slate even featured two sides to the story–one writer favored lunches away from the office, while another argued for working through lunch to spend more time with her family. It’s all about personal preference in the end, but studies have shown that negotiations that take place over meals have higher success rates.

It’s no secret that the act of eating brings people together, and in an office setting when most people are on their headphones and looking at computer screens all day, a little breaking bread can be the most effective way to recharge for the afternoon.

Chicken salad sandwiches

Chicken salad sandwiches

Additionally, making time to eat a well-balanced meal can have extremely positive effects on workplace performance. According to the World Health Organization, we can increase our brain power and boost productivity by 20 percent when we alter our diet to include “good” foods. Most office kitchens and break rooms, however, aren’t filled with foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or stocked with bins of chia seeds. And when a vast majority of the population is working long hours, taking the time to grab a nutritious, WHO-approved lunch is often the last thing on anyone’s mind.

For SpareFoot, having small, judicious breaks throughout the day is especially important for our overall productivity–especially when the afternoon lull hits. How have we addressed the challenge of balancing health and startup craziness while maintaining a sense of community within our ever-growing company? In true SpareFoot fashion, we listened to our stomachs.

Chef Ari ("Shefari") and his son, Remy.

Chef Ari (“Shefari”) and his son Remi.

About three months ago, we hired a full-time chef, Chef Ari Dvorin (fondly known around the office as “Shefari”). Since joining the SpareFoot team, Chef Ari has kept our mouths happy and hearts healthy with everything from grilled mahi mahi to stuffed swiss chard (plus, you may recognize his gorgeous spread of cheeses, fruits and a suckling pig from our Recruiting Mockumentary).

“In my experience, companies with a meal program in place tend to have harder-working employees that stay later, enjoy higher morale and develop better team camaraderie.”

SpareFoot joins Mass Relevance and uShip as another Austin startup to hire an in-house chef. Was it just a selfish move on our part to satisfy our infinite love and desire for food? Maybe. But as other companies across the country like Google, Facebook, Thumbtack and Fog Creek already understand, having a designated company-wide lunch every day has benefits for employees beyond simply satisfying a primal need.

Kimchi slaw

Kimchi slaw

“Hiring a full-time chef at SpareFoot was a great decision,” our CEO and co-founder Chuck Gordon said, “because no one ever has to worry about lunch anymore, which allows us to be more productive. Our ‘cafeteria’ area also enables people from across the company to talk to each other on a regular basis when they normally wouldn’t have that opportunity.”

“It helps knowing that I don’t have to worry about what to eat for lunch each day,” sales Saiyan Kyle “Bunz” Marcus added. “And as someone who has lost 30 pounds in the last four months, it’s awesome that our lunches are healthy, which can be hard to find all the time at restaurants.”

It’s especially important to SpareFoot’s culture to have some time every day when everyone can come together, unwind and have ridiculous conversations about how the company would survive if we all crash-landed on an island. As our SpareFamily continues to grow, being able to catch up with someone over beef stroganoff is becoming more of a sacred thing. Not to mention the pure joy of having piping hot leftovers available when the four-o’clock hunger strikes.

Pork banh mi

Pork banh mi

“I love my job and going to work every day,” Shefari said. “I get to do what I’m passionate about.”

It’s a small, but significant part of our day to get a “Lunch is ready!” email at 11:30 a.m. It’s even more exciting to find something extra delicious on the menu (sushi!) and gush about it with a fellow hungry colleague. Food and familiarity are important to us, and having Shefari here makes it that much easier to retain our startup roots. Plus, as marketing pro Rachel Greenfield succinctly puts it, “He makes a mean green bean.”

Check out some of the other amazing meals Chef Ari has created for the SpareFoot family!

Barley

Barley and veggies

Beef

Grilled beef teriyaki

Pineapple pork

Pineapple pork

Veggie quinoa

Veggie quinoa

Daily salad and greens

Daily salad and greens

Tilapia

Lemon tilapia

Jenny is part of the marketing team at SpareFoot. She currently lives in Austin, TX and likes sushi, Faulkner and Asian horror movies.

  • Lucky13X

    Yup, the food is always amazing!

  • Josh Mikulewicz

    Fueling Austin Wagner’s workouts everyday!

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