Iraj Fernando: Elevating Culinary
IRAJ FERNANDO has transformed the foodservice at BOSCH LLC by:
- BRINGING creativity to menu selections, which often rival fine-dining restaurants, through fresh cooking and a No Repeats philosophy
- INCREASING daily participation to as high as 80% through impeccable customer service
- MENTORING his staff to encourage them to produce the best food possible
- BECOMING an ambassador for Southern Foodservice to bring in new accounts
Iraj Fernando has not allowed his 13 years of restaurant experience to be forgotten since his switch to non-commercial. As executive chef/manager for Southern Foodservice Management Inc., at Bosch LLC in Broadview, Ill., Fernando has used his restaurant mentality to dramatically improve the culinary offerings for Bosch’s 500 employees. But it isn’t just the food that has increased his café’s participation to as high as 80%. Don DeLeonardis, regional manager for Southern’s Midwest region, says Fernando’s skills with customers has also made him successful.
“I frequently stand in the serving area during lunch, and employees tell me constantly how customer-oriented the staff is toward them,” DeLeonardis says. “I recently had a woman tell me she goes home and tells her husband how wonderful the food at Bosch is. Her husband works at a large facility in the Chicago area and he [said] she needs to talk with Iraj and see if he would come work at his facility. This is typical of the comments I get from our customers all the time. All of Iraj’s staff is as focused on customer service as he is—nothing is impossible to them when it comes to the customer.”
Restaurant-minded: A native of Sri Lanka, Fernando came to Chicago when he was 18. His original aspiration was to become a recording engineer, but while attending City Colleges of Chicago a friend hooked him up with a dishwashing job. After a stint at his sister’s Po Boy restaurant in Houston, Fernando returned to Chicago where he took a job as a chef at Bigsby’s restaurant.
“I had no formal education as a chef, but I knew I could do it,” Fernando says. “So I came back to Chicago and within a few days I was working at Bigsby’s. I worked there from 1989 until 1996. Then I heard that this company called Southern Foodservice was looking for a chef. At that point I [didn’t] know about this side of the business. The rest is history.”
Fernando says Southern gave him the freedom to translate what he did in restaurants to Bosch.
“I never knew what these accounts were supposed to be like. I was an outsider,” Fernando says. “I think they liked that because I saw this place as an opportunity because you had this captive audience. I always just want to do better for the customers.”
The café at Bosch features a grill, salad bar, grab-and-go area, Global Market international station and Showplace, an action station where Fernando can be found cooking dishes from scratch. One initiative that Fernando has implemented at Showplace is called No Repeats. As the name suggests, Fernando creates a dish, which won’t be repeated, so he encourages customers to try it while it lasts.
“[No Repeats] gives me an opportunity to give [customers] items that they wouldn’t expect to get at a location like this,” Fernando says. “At first, [No Repeats] became more like a game to me, something to do on Fridays, which were slower for us. I thought we could keep them in the café on Fridays because what I was cooking was like what they’d find in restaurants. I also put up signs that say ‘No Brown Bags Allowed’ to encourage customers to show that people are eating with us and really enjoying it.”
Another initiative, which Fernando calls Food Without Borders, stems from his Far East/Sri Lankan origins. Fernando says coming from a foreign country makes him want to deliver a different feeling for customers when they escape their offices and cubicles. Items like chimichurri, telera breads from Mexico, tabbouleh, various pestos and mole blends are offered at Bosch.
Fernando also has addressed customers’ requests for healthy options by introducing programs such as Green Spoons, which is how the café indicates its healthy options. These better-for-you options are designated by green-handled serving spoons and containers.
The dedication to customer service Fernando developed while working in restaurants has also translated to Bosch. DeLeonardis says this was especially evident when Fernando realized he was losing catering events to some five-star restaurants.