Brian Klippel: Master Craftsman

Throughout his 31-year career at UCSD, Brian Klippel has been a mover and ‘sharer,’ crafting ideas to make his department—and the industry—better.

FoodService Director - Spotlight - Brian KlippelWhen Sergeant Brian Klippel returned from South Korea in 1969 after 15-1/2 months—he was drafted during the Vietnam War but deployed to Korea instead, following the USS Pueblo spy ship incident in North Korea—he decided to complete his degree in business finance at California State University at Long Beach under the GI Bill. But by the time he earned his degree two years later, he’d become enthralled with the challenges to be met in working in college foodservice.

This month Klippel retires at the age of 60 as associate director of housing and dining services at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), the job he’s held for the past 31 years. He’s a man who has been very happy in his work and especially thankful for all the close friends he’s made in the industry through the years. In fact, he’s quick to assert that he’s never met a foodservice director that he didn’t like.

A modest man who wears his leadership mantle graciously, Klippel is not quick to crow about receiving IFMA’s prestigious Silver Plate award for his sector in 1994. In fact, when pressed, he confides that his “greatest accomplishment” was being chosen by his peers as president-elect of the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) in July 1991. He served as president from July 1992 to July 1993.

“We established a NACUFS Foodservice Director Roundtable to develop a program for about 30 fsds to talk about issues,” he recalls. “The first session was held in 1994 and the program continues to this day. Also during my presidency, we established an informal management assistance program that enabled members to contact the NACUFS office for assistance. Perhaps they needed someone or a group of member volunteers to come to their campus to share their experience in solving a particular problem. Now, it’s a more formalized program, and that’s something I wanted to accomplish. We [at UCSD] benefited from these things but, more importantly, the entire industry benefited.”

Cross-pollination: In retrospect, Klippel believes this three-year involvement—NACUFS presidents serve one additional year as past president—made him a better leader, a better manager and a better person. “What I saw and learned during my term was brought back and used at UCSD,” he contends. “Everyone at UCSD was challenged to be an industry leader and create one of the best college foodservice programs in the industry. Everyone at UCSD benefited because I had the opportunity to be involved in NACUFS as their president. I’m also sure this was one of the reasons why I was awarded the Silver Plate.”

Ranked right up there with the NACUFS presidency on Klippel’s list of “most rewarding achievements” is receiving the Theodore W. Minah Distin- guished Service Award in 2004, NACUFS’ highest honor based on “outstanding and enduring contributions to the foodservice industry and to the association.”

“Being recognized as a mover and sharer and industry leader by your peers was my greatest honor,” he admits. “All I have ever wanted in life was to be a player, make a difference in everything that I did, and have fun doing it. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people in my life. Early in my career, as I was struggling to learn what it meant to be a foodservice director, I turned to NACUFS and through those friendships I grew. Those mentors encouraged me to be better in my career and helped me choose to be more involved in NACUFS.”

Ahead of the pack: Of course, being an innovative industry leader weighed heavily in his favor when the Silver Plate judging took place, and Klippel has been on the leading edge of technology and industry changes throughout his career. For example, in the mid-1970s UCSD was one of the first colleges to use computer meal access systems and back-of-the-house menu and production management systems. It was also a leader, under Klippel’s direction, in bringing the retail Marché concept as well as convenience stores onto campus long before they were in vogue.

“I was also involved in hunger relief and helping to make colleges more aware of what they can do to help,” he points out. “At the time I was serving on the board for the national prepared and perishable food rescue program called Foodchain. Today it is commonplace for colleges to participate in socially conscious programs. Colleges are a hotbed of new ideas and should be leaders with regard to social reform, sustainability efforts, etc.”

Rapid progress: During his own college days at Cal State Long Beach, hunger relief—on a very personal level—actually prompted Klippel to apply for his first foodservice job. “I saw an ad on campus for ‘free food’ as a perk if you worked in the cafeteria, and I was tired of eating bologna and cheese sandwiches,” he says. “I started as a dishwasher and soon became student manager, learning all aspects of the operation by doing them while also learning to be a manager. After I graduated, a senior dinner cook position became available and I did that for about a year and a half, learning to bring products together from scratch. It was great experience and it allowed me to become a full-time employee. Shortly after, I applied as assistant manager and helped them open a new facility. So it was a matter of doing quality work, being in the right place and seizing opportunities that allowed me to progress quite rapidly.”

Klippel is still a bit in awe of the intrepid young man that he was when he moved from assistant manager at his alma mater to be foodservice director at the University of San Diego.

“That was a stretch,” he recalls. “I took over from a management company and all they did was hand me a box of keys. I literally arrived December 22 with a Christmas party scheduled for the next day and no food in the house. The chef and I put together a menu—and I went shopping.”

Sink or swim: For the next six months, Klippel lived on campus. Since his wife was still in Long Beach, he ate and slept foodservice 24/7. He was determined to succeed—or fail miserably. Once again, he was learning the ropes on the job, and loving it.

In July 1976, Klippel was hired as foodservice director at UCSD. It seemed a logical career progression, going from a small private school to a large public campus. At the outset, the greatest challenge was modernizing a very old facility and handling great growth. By building several new facilities and with the innovative use of strategically placed kiosks and catering trucks, Klippel—applying his business finance savvy—developed creative strategies to manage growth without incurring significant debt.

Today, the foodservice program on the 24,000-student campus is 100% declining balance. About five years ago, Klippel and his staff developed an on-line catalog, yet another way to enable students to spend the balance on their cards. “We were probably one of the first in the country,” he says. “The catalog is on our Web site. For example, we’ll sell you rice and also a rice cooker. Students in apartments might want to buy in bulk. We only put things on the catalog that will help with bulk-type products; it’s another way for students to see value. Since it’s part of the meal plan, you have to be a meal plan holder to go on line. Students who order by Wednesday can pick up their items on Saturday from the store area adjacent to one of the residential dining facilities.”

It’s in the details: Although some days leave little time for anything other than the job, over the years Klippel has developed numerous skills and interests that he’s looking forward to devoting himself to in retirement. Chief among them is woodworking.

“I’ve made credenzas, stereo cabinets and wall units—I made one for my grandson,” he says proudly. “I’m very meticulous and take a long time. I inherited that attention to detail from my father. Woodworking is a skill I picked up along the way. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. My son [one of Klippel’s five children] is a general contractor with a shop in San Diego. Mostly I work on the weekends in my garage—that’s where I have my grandfather’s original table saw. I have no interest in selling my work; this is not a business. I’d stay in foodservice if I wanted to work. I want to try making Bentwood rocking chairs from some koa wood from Hawaii that I’ve been drying for several years. I also want to makes toys at Christmas for underprivileged children—I’ve never done toys before.”

When the sun comes up: More time for scuba diving is on Klippel’s short list of sports activities to pursue, along with improving his golf game. He presently has an 18 handicap but aims to get it down to 10 or 12 by playing more. Then there’s time to devote to the Special Olympics and hunger relief programs, as well as time for family. He also enjoys sampling fine wines and traveling with Janice, his wife of 10 years, who is currently assistant dean of the division of social sciences at UCSD. Although she may continue working for a few more years while Klippel gets the hang of retirement, he suspects she’ll join him sooner rather than later.

“I don’t know what retirement is going to bring me but I want to be open enough to move in new directions,” he explains. “Whatever it’s going to be, I won’t get up ’til the sun comes up. It’s a new beginning to do the things I love and the things I don’t even know about.”