2013 Silver Plate—Angelo Mojica: Dream Team

UNC Health Care’s foodservice director earned his dream job and now has a team to match.

By 
Paul King, Editor

Sometimes, dreams simply aren’t to be denied, no matter the obstacles. Angelo Mojica, director of nutrition and food services for UNC Health Care, in Chapel Hill, N.C., understands this better than most because he’s experienced it.

Mojica has had two professional dreams—to become a chef and to work at UNC Health Care. Not only has he realized both goals, he has parlayed them into a career that reached its pinnacle this year with dual honors: FoodService Director’s FSD of the Year and the IFMA Silver Plate Award for Healthcare.

Although he has spent more than half his career with Morrison Management Specialists—working for 12 hospitals in 12 years—Mojica has really blossomed as the director of UNC Health Care, where he’s been for the past eight years. He built up the retail component of this five-hospital, 829-bed system by creating 20 self-branded concepts for five retail venues that generate $30,000 a day in revenue. Then he developed a patient room service program called Restaurant Delivery that takes full advantage of the retail operation, a move that has raised patient satisfaction to the 99th percentile.

Even more amazing is the fact that his team has made room service work—it recently went to an around-the-clock operation—with 20 fewer positions than are typically required for a room service program of its size.

“We’re also tracking about a $400,000 savings since the launch, and that’s not counting the labor we saved by not going with a traditional room service program,” Mojica says.

UNC has also become famous for its Black Hat Chef program. Black Hat is a four-level training program that provides production staff —some of whom had no culinary background—with the opportunity to gain valuable cooking skills that can afford them advancement opportunities.

The reluctant chef: Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mojica always dreamed of being a chef, a notion that didn’t sit well with his older brother.

“I used to cook with my mom a lot, and for my 16th birthday I asked for a set of pots,” Mojica recalls. “My older brother beat me up for that.”

When it came time to apply for college, Mojica’s high school guidance counselor asked him what he liked to do. He admitted his love of cooking, and the counselor suggested dietetics or culinary arts.

“I chose dietetics, even though I wasn’t sure of what it was, because I didn’t want to get beat up again,” he says. He attended SUNY-Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y., receiving a degree in clinical dietetics. Mojica would eventually earn a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University, while working for Morrison.
He realized his second dream eight years ago when the director’s chair opened at UNC. Mojica had fallen in love with the area after playing a rugby match there while in college.

Mojica was working at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., when he got the news about the UNC job, and he quickly sent in his resume and followed up with a phone call to the hospital’s vice president of hiring.

“He thanked me for the call, but told me that they were just about to offer someone the job,” Mojica says. “But while we were talking he apparently looked at my resume because he said, ‘Let’s talk.’”

The conversation lasted about an hour, during which time the human resources person decided to hold off on the hiring until his team could interview Mojica. A telephone interview led to an on-site interview with Senior Vice President Mel Hurston.

“He asked me why I wanted this job, and I told him that this is the only place I ever really wanted to work,” Mojica recalls. “I said, ‘If you don’t hire me now I’ll just keep applying until you do hire me.’” Mojica got the job, and that same tenacity has served him well.

“He knows what he wants and he goes for it,” says Vice President Dan Lehman. “He’s always looking for ways to take things to the next level, and he’s always figuring out new ways to reach his goals.”

Jim McGrody, who once worked for Mojica and now is the foodservice director for Rex Healthcare in nearby Raleigh, N.C., says his former boss is a consummate salesman.

“His strongest attribute is that he is able to sell things to administration that other people wouldn’t be able to,” McGrody explains. “He is able to gain the trust of administrators, which allows him to create programs and move to the next level.”

“Island of Misfit Toys”: Mojica says he’s successful at his job because he is skilled at team-building. He believes he’s perfected a method for creating teams that stay focused and committed even in the face of conflict.

The method is two-fold. He emphasizes team meetings and then ensures that a good portion of each meeting is social. He says the social aspect is important because it bonds people so that when a conflict arises the “combatants” realize it’s not personal.

“You have to build relationships, not just talk about what’s going on today and what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he suggests.

Mojica also notes that it’s important that the director not hold himself above his team. “The key is to put yourself on their level,” he says. “You have to be willing to admit that you make mistakes so they can see that everyone does it and it’s OK to admit it.

“I compare my team to the Island of Misfit Toys,” he adds, in a reference to the holiday cartoon classic “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “We know we’re a mess. We know we’ve got problems. Once you admit that and stop trying to act like you’re so cool and know everything, things get a lot easier. We’ve become so much more effective because we’ve taken off our masks.”