How FSD Kellie Piper empowers SAP Palo Alto

This FSD helms SAP’s Palo Alto campus with energy, resourcefulness and an Australian accent.
kellie piper headshot

At a Glance

Kellie Piper
Resident District Manager
Bon Appetit at SAP
Palo Alto, Calif.

$5M—annual operating budget

1,800—employees fed at three on-campus cafes

9—years with SAP, 11 in total with Bon Appetit

Accomplishments

  • Won Regional Account of the Year at Bon Appetit’s 2016 awards ceremony
  • Launched an outdoor food event to cover foodservice during cafe closures
  • Fed 75 families at a Meals for Munchkins program at Ronald McDonald House

A decade ago, Kellie Piper never would have pictured herself working in noncommercial foodservice. Then again, she might not have imagined herself turning down a pineapple, either.

The Australian native inherited her love for food from her chef father, and she started her career in hotels and restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. When a headhunter approached her about working for Bon Appetit Management, running six cafes for Cisco’s 27,000 employees in Mountain View, Calif., she was not enthused.

“I said, ‘Why would I want to do that? That sounds institutional. That doesn’t appeal to me,’” she says, admitting her lack of knowledge about B&I foodservice at the time. “I didn’t actually know they had restaurants in businesses down here.” She decided to give the interview a shot, and immediately was taken with the opportunity to feed so many people in one place. After working at Cisco for two years, she moved on to manage foodservice at software company SAP in nearby Palo Alto, feeding 1,800 on-campus employees.

Variety is the key

SAP provides lunch free of charge for employees—not only a sweet perk, but also, logistically speaking, nearly a necessity. “You’re not going to get in your car and drive. There’s no parking in Palo Alto, and no one has time,” Piper says. Participation is about 85 percent. “Most who don’t [dine with us], it’s because they’re off-site.” Snacks are cash-only and there’s a small upcharge for some special items.

Bon Appetit’s philosophy of sourcing seasonally within 150 miles resonates with Piper—“in Australia, you can’t typically purchase produce that is out of season, because it’s simply not available,” she says—and since you won’t find any pineapples growing in Silicon Valley, she passes them over. “I wait and have pineapples when I’m at home visiting Australia,” she said.

snack display

Pushing for creativity

The high rate of repeat diners means SAP must balance the desire for routine and reliable favorites with new and interesting menu items to pique interest, Piper says. The cafes have no shortage of square footage, but adding additional vents beyond a current grill-to-order station isn’t feasible. Piper brought in a ventless rotisserie and pizza oven, and tasked her culinary team, lead by Executive Chef Melissa Miller, with brainstorming how to use them creatively. The result? Offbeat twists like naan baked in the pizza oven for an Indian-spiced rotisserie chicken wrap.

That’s an approach that Raquel Fanucchi, head of facility management for SAP’s Palo Alto campus, appreciates. “[Piper] is also a great people manager in that she challenges her chefs, and really everyone on her staff, not by giving them the answer to the particular problem, but by challenging them to come up with their own ideas,” Fanucchi says. If the team doesn’t have the resources to implement a new idea permanently, they’ll try it as a one-off, such as a pull-your-own mozzarella cart or a muddle-your-own bubble tea station, Piper says.

“She empowers us to do the best we can,” Miller says. Instilling a sense of ownership and independence in the team is important because both Piper and Miller are responsible for multiple Bon Appetit accounts beyond SAP. This year they shared the honor when SAP was named Account of the Year for North California Regional at Bon Appetit’s internal awards ceremony from among 45 nearby accounts. “With both of us stepping off and out of the picture often to work with other clients, it shows how well they can run,” Miller says.

buffet spread

Taking it outside

Piper oversees SAP’s three cafes and 17 pantries, plus catering for 10 buildings. One challenge she and her team have faced is how to tackle service when the largest cafe needs to close. That was the case during a recent two-month renovation, and the issue crops up at least monthly when the space is needed for other events.

During previous closures, the team would pack up grab-and-go sandwiches or bring in Bay Area food trucks. “At first, everyone was excited [about the trucks], but then people started to go, ‘Can we get something healthy?’ ‘Can we get a salad bar food truck?’” So, most recently, Piper’s team created an outdoor cafe with tents, heaters and mobile stations. “We set it up like a roaming feast,” she says.

On the SAP campus, Piper’s team runs a small organic garden that grows herbs, zucchini, kale, strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce, and also plays host to a handful of honeybee hives. The local-as-can-be produce and honey are utilized in employee workshops and the cafes when possible, but Piper hopes to use them as an educational opportunity with local charities as well. In recent years, Piper’s team planned a Meals for Munchkins dinner for families at the Ronald McDonald House and held a mock foodservice job fair and cooking demo for the Boys & Girls Club, both in Palo Alto. “We’d like to do some more learning [collaborations], and we’re working on how to … have [kids] come out and do harvesting of the garden and a cooking class,” she says.

At that mock job fair, Piper encountered an ambitious boy who has stuck in her memory ever since. “[We wanted them to see] what jobs there are in our industry outside of just cooking, because that’s all that they think of,” Piper said. “We set up pods for chef, HR and foodservice director … This little kiddie comes in and he says to me, ‘Do you own this company? That’s what I want to do!’ and I said, ‘Oh darling, no!’” But while she certainly doesn’t own the whole place, Piper has pride and joy to spare. “SAP is my baby,” she says. “When it comes down to it, it’s about the food and it’s about the customer experience—plain and simple.” 

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