Since jumping into foodservice right out of high school, Cavin Sullivan
has cultivated his natural talent for making food beautiful into a
position as general manager at The J.M. Smucker Company in Orrville,
Ohio. At this Metz & Associates account, he uses this talent, along
with his ability to lead a team, to serve the company’s 1,100 employees
between 500 and 600 meals per day.
Since coming to the Smucker Company in 2004, Sullivan has led a successful transition from the campus’ old dining facility—which was located in the manufacturing plant—to a new facility with a state-of-the-art conference center. Since the new cafeteria opened in April, sales have increased by 50% and guest counts have increased by 25%.
“Our participation at the old facility was really low,” Sullivan says. “It was located in the manufacturing plant, so a lot of the corporate people chose not to walk over there. When the new facility opened, participation increased by 50% and we’ve sustained that.”
Sullivan says the most challenging part of managing the move—which took place over four weeks—was the fact that the new facility was integrating some of the former café’s equipment into its plan.
“Smucker’s wanted to keep the café going without any shutdown, so the challenge was to keep people fed but gradually reduce what we were offering over there, while still keeping people happy. For example, when we lost the grill we added more pizzas and strombolis, and once that station went away we did pre-made sandwiches and boxed lunches to try to come up with things they hadn’t seen before.”
Other challenges with the move included the addition of six positions, which included staff for the conference center, and determining what kind of volume the new facility would be facing. Sullivan says Executive Chef Ken Edwards was instrumental in the transition by coordinating all the new menus, recipes, purchasing and inventory. For his part,
Edwards says it is Sullivan’s talent for organization that makes the operation so successful.
“I think this is one of the most organized accounts that I’ve ever worked at, in terms of how the catering is set up and how the staff is dealt with,” Edwards says. “Cavin is a very organized person and that’s a big key for our organization. It makes things run smoothly.”
Combining healthy forces: The facility features new stations such as an enhanced pizza/pasta concept, where staff prepare bruschetta, strombolis, pizzas and pasta, and a cook-to-order station, which features international fare as well as specialty salads. Other stations include a grill, deli and a large salad bar that features organic produce. Sullivan adds that the Smucker Company is committed to supporting the community so he purchases locally—items such as beef, dairy, produce and chips—whenever he can. Sullivan has also merged Metz & Associates’ healthy eating program, HEALTHchecks, with the Smucker Company’s own program, called “Good and Good for You.”
“Smucker’s program was more about healthy living, not just food,” Sullivan says. “Metz focused more on the nutrition side of it and developed a lot of health-conscious recipes with nutritional analysis. So we just tailored Metz’s program for the Smucker Company by using the “Good and Good For You” logo, but the recipes are from the HEALTHchecks program.” The “Good and Good for You” logo appears on healthier options, which are scattered throughout the facility. Sullivan also was able to upgrade the menu, so they are using more upscale ingredients like shrimp and flank steak.
Sullivan also has increased catering sales because of the space he has in the new facility. The new conference center, located upstairs from the café, has one room that can seat about 600 people and several breakaway rooms that seat about 20 to 30.
“Before this facility was built, the company didn’t really have the space to accommodate a lot of these meetings, so they would take a lot of them off-site,” Sullivan says. “Now that we have the facilities, these meetings can stay in house, so we’ve been doing between $6,000 and $15,000 in catering sales per week.”
Employee golden rule: Sullivan is quick to point out that none of his accomplishments or successes with the new foodservice could have happened without his staff. Beth Gurdock, marketing coordinator for Metz & Associates, says Sullivan’s hands-on management style has helped him maintain good employee morale, which has translated into a low turnover rate— Sullivan says since he’s been at the Smucker Company, only three positions have turned over—and high employee satisfaction. Edwards also says he has been impressed with Sullivan’s interaction with his employees. “He is really calm and cool when talking with the staff,” Edwards says. “Most chefs and people in our industry can sort of fly off the handle when they get passionate about what they’re doing. They go a little crazy, which is how I tend to act. But whenever I see him deal with something, I always think ‘That’s not how it would have happened for me.’ It would have turned into this big ugly thing and there would have been yelling but it never turns out that way for him.”
Sullivan says his flexibility is the key to his management style.
“I take the Smucker’s philosophy and I provide my staff with a great place to work,” Sullivan says. “I think you can create a positive environment within your workforce and it just makes everything more productive. I treat them how I’d want to be treated and I find I pretty much get that in return. I think that’s why I have so little turnover, which is uncommon for our industry.”
Born into food: Sullivan didn’t realize he was cut out for foodservice until he graduated high school. He was born in Belgium, a country with a rich culinary history, and he lived there until he was 7. Then his family moved to Akron, Ohio, where he grew up, graduating from Ellet High School. After graduation, he began his culinary career working as a fry cook at Arthur Treacher’s, a quick service restaurant chain. After working his way through several restaurants, he answered a blind ad for a position at the Goodyear headquarters in downtown Akron.
“At Goodyear I met a great woman named Lynne Ohlson,” Sullivan says. “She recognized the artistic talent I had for presentation. She was the first person to give me garde manger books that taught me to do a lot of neat things that I still do as far as carvings with fruit and vegetables. I found I had a knack for that stuff and that is really what launched my career to the next level.”
After five years at Goodyear, Sullivan spent some time working for several foodservice management companies. One of his jobs during that period was at the National Football Hall of Fame, where his carvings of football helmets out of melons won him at least one famous fan. “Dan Marino came over to check out the Miami Dolphin melon helmet,” he adds. Sullivan also worked at healthcare and higher education accounts before settling at the Smucker Company.
“Smucker’s had a great reputation for being a very good company to work for,” says Sullivan. “They’ve really leaned on me to assist them, such as in the design of the new facility. They’ve also been very open by letting me staff in a way that provides as high a quality of foodservices as possible.”
Carving out community: Sullivan has taken his love of foodservice to the community by partnering with Heartland Point, a local community center that is part of the Smucker Company’s community education initiative partnership with the Orrville community.
“I’ve taught a few garnish classes, where I demonstrated how to make flower bouquets out of vegetables,” Sullivan says. “My next class is on melon carving so I’ll show how to carve sea creatures out of melons. It’s my way of jumping in on what Smucker’s is trying to do with the center.”
The garnish classes are illustrative of what makes Sullivan passionate about foodservice.
“The artistic aspect of foodservice is my best interest. Not that I can’t cook, but the catering, the displays and making food beautiful, as well as taste good, is what I’ve always felt I was good at.”