Corporate Chefs Inc.
Alan Ayres and his business partners, Ken Bickford and David Desrosiers, founded Corporate Chefs Inc. (CCI) in 1987. After previously working together for Inplant Catering in Woburn, Mass., the trio decided to strike out on their own.
“The reason we started on our own is that we wanted personal relationships,” says Ayres, treasurer of CCI. “We knew we could provide a more personalized service and meet the demands of our clients faster with one-to-one relationships. This is much harder to do in a large corporation. We learned a lot from working with a larger company, but we felt there was a need in the market for a company with the resources of a large corporation, but the personalized service of a smaller company. CCI has built its business in this mold.”
CCI provides food service for corporations, colleges and government agencies alike; the CCI team provides management, labor, food and supplies for clients. The company runs the food service, but does not own the cafeterias; therefore, when CCI enters a corporate setting, the team most often uses the facility’s kitchen.
The company’s geographic footprint spans from New Hampshire to northern Virginia with a main office and warehouse in Haverhill, Mass. Outside of daily food service, the team of approximately 500 also provides vending, office coffee and catering services.
One of CCI’s main goals is to build strong ties, offering continued service for a number of major clients. In order to serve customers efficiently and with quality products, the team works with purveyors, distributors and wholesalers to source a variety of food and beverages.
“We work with smaller produce companies through distributors,” Ayres adds. “We have no commissary, because we prepare our food at each location. As much as possible, we work with local vendors and distributors. PFG and Gordon Food Service are the two main wholesalers we work with, in addition to several small, local companies. Everything is created on-site, so we pull from the area we are in. We source paper goods from Gordon and our disposable containers from xpedx.”
Ayres goes on to note that the company also has a purchasing manager to ensure nothing is overlooked. “When choosing a supplier, we look at quality, service and price in that order,” he says. “If they don’t have the quality we require, we will look elsewhere. In 27 years of business, our suppliers have definitely changed.”
The company has indeed changed, and in a positive direction. “We used to have coffee with the Sanka packets and four to five other beverages,” he continues. “Now the beverage selection is up to 60 or 70 different bottled beverages. We make sure we maintain a good relationship with our suppliers. Our purchasing manager has to stay on top of a lot of locations and their specific needs.”
Facing Market Challenges
The recent economic and constant regulatory changes have presented challenges for CCI. “Corporations have cut back and layoffs hurt us simply because there are less people for us to serve,” Ayres explains. “The first thing these big companies cut back on is discretionary spending, like catering and holiday parties. The regional economy is not improving and there is not a lot we can do but continue to provide restaurant-quality food and unparalleled service to our current customers. We are at the mercy of the market, but we continue to aggressively pursue new business and foster new relationships.”
Ayres goes on to note that CCI’s extra care is also carried out in-house. “We are also working hard to get the word out to our employees about the new health care laws,” he elaborates. “The new laws have not greatly affected CCI, since we have had an excellent, competitive health care benefit in place from the beginning.”
Of course, Ayres and his team are not just sitting back and waiting for the challenges to pass. The team has launched a number of new initiatives to take advantage of new parts of the market. “We hired a new vice president of operations recently,” Ayres notes. “If we could get the economy behind us, things would move even faster, but we continue to make strides and improvements. We are not going to expand our geographical area. We want to increase our business within the parameters we have set up now.”
The company has launched what the team refers to as self-service markets in order to expand services, which is headed by Desrosiers. “It falls in between vending and a cafeteria,” Desrosiers elaborates. “These mini markets offer salads, sandwiches and other items. There is no cashier and virtually no employees. Our customers grab what they want and check themselves out just like the self-scan stations at Home Depot. All of the food has a barcode that customers scan and pay at a kiosk located in the market. We supply the checkout card.”
The company now has six mini markets, including a new Washington, D.C., location. “This helps us expand in two places,” Desrosiers says. “Some large corporations that may have a large campus will have one cafeteria. At the outer rim of the campus, they still want to offer some food services. Then you have smaller businesses that can’t afford a full cafeteria, so this works perfectly at smaller sites.”
It is evident that CCI is working hard to maintain growth, as the team is hopeful the market will see some visible economic turnaround soon. In the meantime, Corporate Chefs Inc. will continue to provide innovative food service options to corporate clients up and down the East Coast.