Lenny DeMartino: Warrior for Health

 Ever since he was 12 and working in a pizza parlor, Lenny DeMartino has found satisfaction in serving people. Now, as general manager at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield—a Parkhurst Dining Services account in Pittsburgh, Pa.—his love of service has taken him to an unexpected place by transforming him into a living example of what his programs can do: Change unhealthy lifestyles, help lose excess weight and increase sales and customer satisfaction.

Since joining Parkhurst in 2002, DeMartino has been faced with the task of overhauling Highmark’s menu, with a major focus on healthier dining. “Highmark is a health insurance company, so we’re trying to get our folks, especially our employees, to be cognizant of eating and living healthier,” says Paul Long, director of facilities management for Highmark. “The new healthy menu has been great, and the employees seem to enjoy it. I think Lenny is a real customer-oriented person and he displays that day in and day out.”

DeMartino says his goal was to make healthy foods—such as whole-wheat penne with red pepper pesto and portabello mushrooms—the default rather than an option.

“When I first came to Highmark there was a typical café menu of cheeseburgers and potato chips. When Highmark executives wanted to make healthy items the focus, I embraced it,” DeMartino says. “I began replacing the ‘bad’ items with more grilled, baked and broiled foods. I eliminated the daily grill specials and replaced them with a stir-fry bar. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to make these changes full force.”

At the 300-seat Blue Café—where DeMartino and his staff serve about 1,200 people a day during breakfast and lunch—DeMartino says he was able to showcase the healthier items by putting them at the forefront of the menu. Along with changing recipes of old standards to make them healthier, DeMartino also features Parkhurst’s Whole Body menu line, which offers dishes that balance calories, fat content and sodium. The catering menu was changed, replacing items such as bacon with the healthier alternative of turkey bacon. Although DeMartino still has some non-healthy items for sale, he isn’t promoting them on the menu.

Lenny Demartino“They can still order french fries, but they have to ask for them because we now feature baked sweet potato fries,” DeMartino says. “With the catering menu, if a customer wants regular bacon and sausage, they would have to work a little harder for it [and request it] because it would not be staring them in the face. Slowly but surely, I am seeing our guests make better food choices.”

In addition to changing the café and catering menus, DeMartino also developed a Healthy Snack Corner, where customers can choose from several Fit Picks—nutritious snack items such as fruit bars, Naked Juice and baked chips. DeMartino and his colleagues also installed several HIPs—healthy interruption points—around the cafe servery. The HIPs are small stations that have fruit displays, healthy eating literature and nutritious pre-portioned snacks such as granola or mixed nuts.

“The points have been popular as a healthier impulse buy, especially at the cashier station,” DeMartino says. “The days of chocolate bars and chips at the cashier’s station are a thing of the past.”

With so many healthier dishes, DeMartino recognized it was time to change his own lifestyle to set a good example. Through eating at the Blue Café every day and controlling his portion sizes, he lost 30 pounds in the past year. His executive chef, Tim Fetter, lost 45 pounds since joining DeMartino’s team nine months ago. 

“I came to the realization that you really have to change your lifestyle,” DeMartino says. “So I’ve been focused on trying to eat healthier every day and the weight slowly started to come off. It was much easier since we offer so much healthy food for breakfast and lunch.”

Spicing things up: One of the recent accomplishments DeMartino is most proud of—besides his weight loss—is his new “Healthy Weekly” newsletter. The newsletter was born out of his desire to communicate more directly to his guests about the plethora of healthy options available daily. Employees can sign up to receive the newsletter, which currently contains only the week’s menus but will soon include articles and health tips.

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