Erwin Schmit: Not lost in translation
Erwin Schmit has improved foodservice at Grainger Headquarters by:
- Increasing participation by more than 20% and average daily sales by nearly 15% through innovative programming
- Building close relationships with his customers through one-on-one conversations to solicit feedback and responding quickly to requests
- Using his culinary background to create new takes on successful restaurant ideas
- Challenging his staff to think innovatively and to remember to always keep improving
The ability to translate what goes on in the back of the house to the front of the house is the key to Erwin Schmit’s success. As foodservice director for Aramark at Grainger Headquarters in Lake Forest, Ill., Schmit has used his talent of translation to make a big impact at the company’s world headquarters, as well as six satellite locations in northern Illinois.
“Erwin has a passion for great food and service, and it shows from the minute you walk into any of his operations,” says Della DeFilippo-Flynn, district manager for Aramark. “He provides inspiration and coaching to our young managers and chefs within the organization.”
Account transition: One big effort for Schmit, according to DeFilippo-Flynn, was increasing participation after Aramark took over the account in 2010—an endeavor that Schmit says hinged on finding out what the customers’ wants and needs were.
“The biggest thing we had to do was find out what the customers wanted and then find out if those wants and needs were financially possible,” Schmit says. “We had to look at items with a high margin and ask, can we sell them? And if the margins are low, can we sell a lot of them? That is basically what we did.”
Under Schmit’s leadership participation increased by more than 20% since he joined the account. Average daily sales increased by 15%.
“There was a lot of trial and error when it came to the food program and staffing, and we took a lot of risks,” Schmit adds.
Taking risks is something Schmit has been doing since his foodservice career began. As a teenager Schmit worked in restaurants when he still was planning to become a dentist.
“At that young age the owner of the restaurant where I worked was buying a Mercedes-Benz and I said, ‘wow, I have to go to dentist school for years [to get that] and [the restaurant owner] already has it,” Schmit says. “So I thought [foodservice] was a lucrative career at the beginning.”
Schmit got a culinary degree from Kendall College and worked in restaurants and country clubs before making the switch to non-commercial foodservice. Schmit’s background as a culinarian has allowed him to translate what he has done in the back of the house to the front of the house.
“In my mind I’m a very innovative and creative person,” Schmit says. “I don’t like being bored. This is my playground. I can work with my chefs in the kitchen and then go to the front of the house and market the asparagus to make it sound good. It’s just a joy to come to work. I rarely call in sick. I just love dealing with the staff and with the customers.”
Building relationships: Schmit feels his relationships with his customers are one of his greatest accomplishments at Grainger.
“The customers have trust in what I do,” Schmit says. “There is a huge trust factor that goes along with not only my customers here but also with my client as well. At the beginning, it was a little hard because [the customers] didn’t know how to approach me. The trust was really built in stages. If I say I’m going to do something I do it, and I follow up with it afterward to see if it met the customers’ standards. I ask them if there is anything that can be changed. They know that I’m responsible and accountable. I tell them all the time that I wear my heart on my sleeve. If there is an issue I’ll take care of it.”