Jason Giagrande: Bringing Sexy Back
Creating atmosphere: When Giagrande was growing up in the Bronx and Westchester, N.Y., he says he first gained his passion for food from his grandmother.
“My grandmother was your typical Italian woman and to this day is the best chef I’ve ever seen,” Giagrande says. “When I was 13 I got a job at a local restaurant, where I worked in every position possible. If I’m going to run an operation, I need to know how everyone’s job works.”
Giagrande worked in several restaurants, even owning his own until a meeting with Rick Postiglione, of Compass Group introduced him to corporate foodservice.
“At the time I didn’t want to be involved,” Giagrande says. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do food anymore and even more so I never saw myself in a corporate environment. I toured Restaurant Associates and Flik and wound up taking a position with Flik. I worked in a few law firms before coming to NBC. Once I saw everything that was going on, I wanted to get in here and revamp everything.”
A big part of what he wanted to change was the 30 Rock commissary.
“We really did as much as possible without spending a lot of money,” Giagrande says.“We put in new displays, added a chef’s table, a salad bar and a candy store. I have a very high level of what I expect aesthetically for my events so I don’t know if I’ll ever have the commissary be what I want it to be. It’s almost good that you’ll never be happy because you’ll constantly be improving.”
The seating area was also redone with new seating options and TVs to make an escape for employees.
“Corporations realize there is a big value to keeping their employees happy,” Giagrande says. “My main objective in the commissary is to create a place where people are going have a great meal and a great overall experience. After redoing the commissary, sales increased about 15%.”
Leading by example: Another passion for Giagrande is health and wellness. He is big into fitness and personal training, so when NBC Universal came to him with the company’s Healthy Week he was eager to help.
“The relationship with most of my customers is such that they know I’m not just telling them to eat healthy, they know it’s how I live,” Giagrande says. “I practice what I preach.”
Giagrande was part of the team who implemented the Healthy at NBCU program, which involves labeling all items with a “Healthy at NBCU” label and nutrition information. The commissary even has a grab-and-go case that is filled only with healthy options.
“The Healthy at NBCU program is similar to Flik’s “FIT” program, but it is its own creation,” he adds. “I used a lot of the Flik materials and information for meal planning and nutritional information to assist us in our creations. Dr. Tanya Benenson, who is the medical director for NBCU, along with our whole Healthy at NBCU team were a very big part in all this because it is a countrywide program for NBCU facilities.”
For Healthy Week, Giagrande hosted several events including two healthy chef’s tables, one with Campanaro, a Fit for Five promotion where customers could get a composed meal for $5 and a farmers’ market.
“We want to emphasize that there’s no such thing as bad food, just bad portions,” Giagrande says. “The best part of Healthy Week is that we didn’t stop, we still have the labels and promotions on a day-to-day basis.”
Giagrande’s client, Brian Dorfler, vice president of human resources for NBCU, was also impressed by Giagrande’s Healthy Week efforts.
“We've been making efforts around encouraging healthier lifestyles, and Jason has played a big role in it,” Dorfler says. “What's great about these ideas was that they were Jason's. We didn't tell him what to do; he knew what we were going for and came up with a plan to help us realize it. He's tough on himself. If Jason's planning an event, he labors over every detail to make sure it is absolutely perfect. When it's over, and it's a success—which it inevitably is—I tell him he did great. Jason, on the other hand, points out the two or three things that he feels he should have done better.”