Erwin Schmit: Not lost in translation

Aramark’s Erwin Schmit uses culinary experience to bring the back of the house to the front.

Accomplishments

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.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Menu Development
chicken tetrazzini bowl

The No Whey station in the main dining hall at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., offers students meals that are free of the eight most common allergens. When Brittany Parham, the dietitian who oversees the station, polled food-sensitive students on which favorites they missed most, “comfort foods” was the overwhelming response. Parham, who herself has food allergies, worked with chefs on the 20,000-student campus to focus on allergen-free versions of pasta bakes, biscuits, banana bread and other down-home dishes. Recently, the chefs reworked the school’s traditional chicken...

Ideas and Innovation
university chicago medical center renovation workers

As The University of Chicago Medical Center prepared for the revamp of one of its kitchens to feed an additional 202 patients, it wasn’t just foodservice executives coming to the table to make decisions. The process, which began in fall 2014, involved hourly employees from the ground up, says Daryl Wilkerson, vice president of support services. “They actually helped build this [kitchen], which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he says. “Normally what you’ll get in a lot of projects is senior people sitting around in shirts and ties making decisions.”

The hospital follows the...

Ideas and Innovation
idea bulb innovation concept

There’s no feeling quite like the “spark of inspiration” that Dawn Aubrey , associate director of housing for dining services at the University of Illinois, cites in this month’s Steal This Idea-themed cover story. That rush of blood and endorphins to the brain when everything comes together is like nothing else, and often finds me falling over furniture because I’m so excited to start putting plans into action. Unfortunately, I also bruise easily.

Throughout this issue, we’ve highlighted stealable ideas in all realms of noncommercial foodservice, from protein-focused sides to...

FSD Resources