Lenny DeMartino: Warrior for Health

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

“To my surprise, I started with 15 people and now have more than 60,” DeMartino says. “I’ve been blown away by the tremendous support I’ve received with the publication. We are looking at possibly sending it out to all Highmark employees in the near future.”

Another recent venture for DeMartino was the introduction of Parkhurst’s Hemisflavors program. The program brings the foods of one of seven different countries to the café each week. DeMartino says these options try to follow the healthier eating mandate by using ethnic flavors that aren’t normally associated with healthy cooking. Items such as Moroccan beef, chicken curry and bean stews. “The Hemisflavor program combines traditional-style preparation and spices with local produce, which gives them global cuisine with local flavor,” DeMartino says. The program along with the healthier changes in the menu have resulted in a 10% to 15% sales increase, DeMartino adds.

Marketing watch: When the Hemisflavors program debuted in January, DeMartino went all out to promote it in the café. The countries rotate each week so DeMartino changes the décor to coincide with the featured country’s cuisine. He decorated the servery with the colors and flags of countries the program showcases such as Mexico, Morocco and Greece. He also plays authentic music from that week’s country.

“I have always tried to think outside the box when creating a new look and feel for the café,” DeMartino says. “Many guests comment on how the music really gets them to feel the mood of the featured country. I really became passionate about incorporating all the senses with the sounds and smells.” Elsewhere in the café, DeMartino hired a local artist to design new signage and planted a fresh herb garden along the café’s windows to make sure his guests dine in a warm atmosphere that serves as a respite from their offices.

Staff recognition: Making his guests happy is DeMartino’s top priority, but he believes that can’t happen without a cohesive team behind him. To make his staff feel valued, he gives them lottery tickets on their birthdays as well as recognizing achievements during his daily pre-service meetings. Also, to coincide with the Hemisflavors program, DeMartino has some fun with his staff by encouraging a game of Pictionary with the Hemisflavors features of the day. For example, for a tomato bean soup special, the employee would draw a tomato, a bean and a bowl of soup. “But they try and be a little creative with it,” DeMartino adds. He gives out prizes for the associates who are chosen as the best Pictionary players.

DeMartino’s efforts to relate and support his staff do not go unnoticed. Executive Chef Fetter says, “Lenny is very easy to talk to and I don’t have to worry about stepping on eggshells or anything like that. I can go to him with any problems or issues we might have and he’s always willing to compromise to get a solution worked out.”

Sated by service: DeMartino’s love of service began at an early age when he started working at a pizza shop at the age of 12, moving to manager by 15.

“I grew up in a really small neighborhood south of Pittsburgh called Lincoln Place. It’s a real tight-knit community,” DeMartino says. “I went into the food business because it had been a passion of mine since working—under the table—at the pizza shop when I was 12. I really liked it and it was a big responsibility for someone so young but I learned that I loved to serve people and make them happy,” DeMartino says. “When I see a smile on someone’s face when I serve something or cook something, that is where my passion lies.”

DeMartino attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pa., where he earned a degree in hotel/restaurant/institution management. After he graduated, DeMartino worked with Ruby Tuesday restaurants for 10 years, six of those as general manager, where he says he learned a lot about how to succeed in the business.

Time giver: In his time at Parkhurst, DeMartino has found different ways to satisfy his passion for serving besides what he does in the dining room. For the past six years, he has been co-chair for the Caring for Kids campaign. The program collects money for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Eat ‘n Park Hospitality—Parkhurst’s parent company—is the largest fundraiser for the Caring for Kids campaign in Pittsburgh. DeMartino took his devotion to the cause one step further this past year by organizing a motorcycle run, an event that raised $2,500 for Caring for Kids in a matter of weeks. The run will now be an annual event, says DeMartino. Since DeMartino has been a chairperson for the Caring for Kids, he has helped Parkhurst raise $75,000.

DeMartino’s dedication to others seems to be the theme of his more than 15 years in foodservice. Customer Relations Manager Lynne Marchese, who works with DeMartino to organize special event dinners for Highmark’s clients, agrees that DeMartino’s customer orientation is what sets him apart.

“Recently we hosted 350 people for an event tied to a performance of ‘The Lion King.’ I wanted to do an African-themed dinner, so with Lenny and his staff we went through pages of African-themed recipes and they put on a spectacular show,” Marchese says. “Lenny is super willing to do a lot of out-of-the-box thinking for me, which is what makes him so great.”

It is challenges like these that motivate DeMartino to keep improving his levels of service. “I want people to remember that I love to serve people,” DeMartino says. “I’m pleased to go out of my way to make people smile and people say, ‘wow, that was great service.’”

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