Carlos Rivera: Passion Project

Rivera uses the same space to offer a fresh noodle bar, with choices of broth and vegetables and a baked potato bar that, he says, takes it up a notch by using sweet potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes and stuffing them with fresh vegetables. Another successful program Rivera implemented was a Friday Flavors of the World station, designed to keep Friday just as exciting as the rest of the week.

“On Fridays, it’s very normal for your sales to go down,” Rivera says. “So I wanted to do something different. I eliminated the salad bar on Fridays. I put chafers into the salad bar and I created Flavors of the World. We’ve done things such as Indian and Japanese cuisine, all sold by the pound. My sales have gone up 15% on Fridays as a result. I think what normally happens is that when managers menu, they have a  “thank God it’s Friday” mentality and the menu reflects that. I wanted to make the menu just as exciting on Fridays as it is on Mondays, and it paid off.”

This switch and others like it are the kinds of things that make Rivera stand out, according to Ed Jakubiak, district manager for CulinArt.

“I think Carlos has a genuine passion for the industry and the people he works with,” Jakubiak says. “ He really knows how to develop great relationships with his clients and staff. He always takes the CulinArt programs and implements them successfully and takes them above and beyond.”

Another successful program Rivera implemented was designed to address the recession. Rivera says they introduced breakfast punch cards to encourage customers to buy breakfast.

“About 500 cards get punched and honored during a two-week period,” Rivera says. “The program just started six months ago. They come in, get a punch for spending at least $1.50 and after 10 punches they get a free breakfast, up to $3. But the thing is, they’re not just spending the $1.50, they’re buying more items. We can feature a spinach and feta cheese omelet with home fries for $2.75 and they will buy it—when maybe this was a customer who would just buy a piece of fruit.”

Choosing china: Rivera has also been heavily involved in implementing the cafeteria’s green initiatives, including a switch to all china.

“My push right now is to use only china,” Rivera says. “The only concern from the customer’s point of view is how they get from point A to their office with china, but we’ll get that solved. China is always the best solution when going green. We have 26 pantries on 17 floors, so we’re reworking them so they have bussing tubs where people can deposit their trays and china. That’s saved us about $30,000 because we haven’t had to buy as many disposables.”

Rivera says his department is about 75% of the way done with implementing the green initiatives the department wants to put in place. They’ve made the switch to environmentally friendly disposable cups. He says they have about 25% left to complete, such as switching their clamshells to environmentally friendly containers and increasing their local purchases.

“We’re always going to make an effort to offer products that our customers are looking for,” Rivera says. “We are very big with sustainability right now. We use local products from Long Island and New Jersey. We put signs on our food any time we make something using local products. There is no relation to cost; if it’s local and good we will use it. About 25% of our purchases come from local items, and about 30% of our salad bar is purchased locally, season permitting.”

Open door policy: Not only does Rivera want to be available to his customers, he wants his employees to feel comfortable coming to him. The last seven years, his employee retention rate has been more than 70%.

“I try to create a work environment where our employees have ownership for what they do,” Rivera says. “I tell them, ‘I would never have you do something I would never be willing to do myself.’ Education is key. If you don’t prepare your people, they’re going to fail. If they fail, you’re go­ing to fail. Give me anybody with a good attitude and I’ll train them. I’d rather have that than someone who thinks they know it all and has a bad attitude.”

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