Jean Petke: The Consummate Partner

The Eastman Chemical plant in Kingsport, Tenn., is almost a city unto itself, with a population of about 8,000 employees and a couple thousand outside contractors (primarily from engineering and construction companies) on site at any given time. The enclave encompasses more than 500 buildings set on 6,000 acres; the main plaant itself covers 858 acres.

How to get her hands around so far-flung an operation while serving a clientele ranging from corporate executives to manufacturing plant employees was Jean Petke's major challenge when Eastman first outsourced foodservice in 1996. Petke is now senior employee services coordinator with broad responsibilities beyond her role as liaison overseeing a mammoth foodservice operation.

Petke arrived on the scene 17 years ago armed with a degree in home economics education from Washington State University and experience in running a catering business out of her home. "I'd never done foodservice," etke recalls, "but Eastman asked me to run its white tablecloth executive dining room."

Book cook: By combining her "book learning" with the cook's high-volume experience, she was soon up to speed. "We respected each other's knowledge," she says. With that attitude of respect paired with a savvy sense of what changes could be effected beyond the executive dining room, Petke grew her domain to the extent where, in 2001, she opened a fully implemented "virtual foodcourt" a collection of branded concepts located in several dining points of service. In 2005, it recorded its highest revenues to date.

"I've been here through the process of our foodservice operation being totally self-op, then outsourced to one contractor, to the point where we now have eight foodservice companies on site," Petke explains. Of these eight locations, one runs 24/7, while the rest are open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday. There are also about 400 vending machines in 100 locations, all serviced and stocked by one vendor.

To avoid being locked into a contract with only one contract operator, and to provide the broadest range of appropriate choices for her diverse customer base, Petke has forged an array of unique arrangements with seven operator-partners.

"We have three main cafeterias and two of them are privately owned by independent contractors," she explains. "At the 6th Street Cafe, for example, we contracted with a guy who had been through culinary school, worked for restaurants and contractors, but wanted to own his own business. He hires the staff, buys the food, writes the menus, etc. And, he pays us a commission, a percentage of his sales."

Negotiated commission: In fact, every company that Petke has brought in pays such a commission to Eastman. The arrangement allows the entity to own its own business without a lot of overhead costs and without the financial risk of owning a building. Petke provides the space, equipment and maintenance of equipment, as well as utilities, phones, grease disposal and carpet, hood and duct cleaning.

"Our goal is to cover our maintenance costs," she says. "Whether they're a foodservice company, a private owner or a franchisee, the only thing that's different is the amount of commission and that's negotiated separately with each one of the eight."

The shift from self-operation to contract management to this current array of outside vendors began in 1996. By January 2000, Southern Foodservice Management was running everything except the two Subway units and a McDonald's installation. (McDonald's left in December 2003.)

Then, Petke began the process of diversifying the operations. With each change in management, Petke aimed to choose the operator that would be the best fit for each location, matched to the tastes of the clientele. "We felt that while the outside world had changed, our world within the plant had not, so we set out to make it look more like Kingsport," Petke explains.

"To fill the last three slots I looked at 40 companies, franchisees, restaurant owners and contractors, within 40 miles of here. All three were installed over Memorial Day weekend in 2001, and that completed the 'foodcourt.'"

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Shedd Aquarium White Sox Shedd The Straw

The Chicago White Sox have partnered with the Shedd Aquarium to support their “Shedd the Straw” initiative: a plan that the groups expect to curb the use of plastic straws by about 215,000 this baseball season.

Beginning on Earth Day, April 22, drinks at all dining locations throughout the Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field will not be automatically served with plastic straws. Guests will be provided with biodegradable straws upon request. Guaranteed Rate Field is said to be the first in Major League Baseball to ban the use of plastic straws.

“At one of Shedd Aquarium’s local...

Industry News & Opinion

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation, a philanthropic group that aims to create a more sustainable food system in New England, has announced its creation of the New England Food Vision Prize .

The foundation is inviting foodservice leaders from colleges and universities throughout New England to submit their ideas on how to create a stronger food system that will help the region produce at least half of its own food by 2060.

Qualifying ideas must be collaborative and replicable, among other requirements. The foundation hopes that by reaching out to large food purchasers, like...

Industry News & Opinion
CP building

Central Point School District in Central Point, Ore., is sprucing up its lunch program by adding more locally produced foods and scratch-made dishes, KDRV reports.

A nutritionist and chef from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council trained school staff on 15 new recipes with the goal of upgrading the school lunch menu.

The ongoing project has been successfully implemented in other Oregon school districts over the last eight years. The trainings focus on Oregon State University Extension Food Hero recipes that meet USDA nutrition standards and incorporate locally sourced...

Industry News & Opinion

Carson City School District in Carson City, Nev., hosted its Breakfast with a Hero event this week, Carson Now reports.

Held at an elementary school, the event invited local law enforcement to serve breakfast and eat with students. Officials say the event was intended to help students connect and engage with local officers in a casual setting.

Read the full story via carsonnow.org .

Photo by Dan Davis at Carson City School District

FSD Resources