2013 Silver Plate—Jay Silverstein: Foodservice Cheerleader

Supporting those around him has propelled veteran B&I operator to the top.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

A cheerleader isn’t what would instantly come to mind looking at Jay Silverstein, but that is exactly how he sees his role as vice president of conference and dining services at Credit Suisse in New York.

“I need to motivate and challenge others,” Silverstein says. “I want to cheer on [my staff] to do the right thing and embrace the philosophy of what we’re trying to do.”

Silverstein’s ability to cheer and lead his staff has led to a variety of accomplishments during his 31 years in the industry—everything from a full renovation to bringing in street foods and ultimately growing his annual sales volume to $12.6 million.

“He has an eye for detail and a passion for quality in everything he does,” says Ed Sirhal, president of Restaurant Associates, Credit Suisse’s New York foodservice provider. “He cares about every single foodservice associate, from the pot washer to the executive chef. He has been a tough but fair business partner and a wonderful mentor to many client liaisons. Jay has given back to the industry far more than he has received.”

What Silverstein receives from the industry is an enjoyment derived from the fact that food makes people happy.

“I was born into the foodservice industry,” Silverstein says. “Food was always central to everything in our family. I solved a lot of my problems by eating french fries.”

After attending Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, N.J., where he received a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Silverstein was hired as an assistant manager at a B&I account in New York.

“You have to start at the bottom and work your way up because the only way you are going to be a great manager is if you know how to do all the jobs,” he says. “[Working there] was probably the greatest experience I’ve had to foster my career. The employees were so miserable that they used to literally throw the food back at the cafeteria workers if they didn’t like it. One lady didn’t like the way the food looked, so she knocked her tray all over me. I came home and my mom said, ‘Why do you want to do this for the rest of your life?’ I said, ‘Because my goal is to make that woman happy next time she comes through.’”

Staff restaurant: Since then, Silverstein has strived to create enjoyable dining experiences for his customers. One way he’s accomplished this is by opening the foodservice facilities in what is now Credit Suisse’s corporate headquarters. In 1997, Credit Suisse moved its headquarters into a building that had been completely renovated.

“I think [the design] was innovative and cutting-edge at the time,” Silverstein says. “It’s set up as several stations with a huge island in the middle with a salad bar. All the production was moved in front of the customer. We used expensive pots and china to serve food in because we really wanted the place to live up to its name. It’s not a cafeteria; it’s a staff restaurant.”

Since the staff restaurant was redesigned, Silverstein says his department has been able to upsize and downsize as the environment has changed. The team has fit new concepts into the existing stations, but the important thing, according to Silverstein is that they have been trying new things.

“For example, we’re in the midst of a program based on the food truck trend,” Silverstein says. “We wanted to bring those street foods inside. Restaurant Associates has a program working with Marcus Samuelsson that offers those types of foods. That inspired us to bring in other outside New York vendors to the restaurant. All of a sudden you are getting restaurant food and you don’t have to go out for it.”

Industry leader: Beyond all his operational accomplishments, Silverstein is most eager to talk about his involvement in the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) and how it has impacted his career. Silverstein served on the association’s board of directors from 1999 to 2004 and as its president in 2003.

“I joined SFM and worked my way through the board, and when they decided to make me president it was such a great experience,” Silverstein recalls. “What’s great about it is you have clients like myself, self operators and all the contractors and suppliers together. I remember [at] my first SFM [conference], a gentleman told me to always look people in the eye and return eye contact. That always just stuck with me.”

And SFM has been just as happy with Silverstein. He has been honored by the association several times, including the Richard Ysmael Distinguished Service Award in 2010 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. Silverstein says what makes SFM different from other associations is it’s like a family.

“It’s spot-on specific to what we all do,” Silverstein says. “I think the quality of [SFM’s] programming and what the organization has to offer is timely and evolving. Where other organizations are very focused, sometimes if you don’t fit into one of their check boxes, then they don’t want to know you. When I got the Lifetime Achievement Award I got emotional because I’ve always done everything in pursuit of just doing the right thing. It wasn’t about me. It’s about all the people that I have partnered with that have helped me get there.”