JEFF SHAFFER has improved the foodservice at REED SMITH by:
• FOSTERING a work environment that encourages trust between team members
• CREATING and maintaining a rooftop terrace garden, which provides the café with fresh produce during the summer months
• IMPLEMENTING a comprehensive home meal replacement program, where customers place orders at lunch to pick up take away dinners
• INTRODUCING new concepts quarterly for the café's rotating station, which has helped increase revenue by 8.9%
Jeff Shaffer, Parkhurst Dining Services, Reed SmithJeff Shaffer believes in the power of leading by example. As executive chef for Parkhurst Dining Services at Reed Smith in Pittsburgh, Shaffer manages day-to-day operations, finances, menu planning and customer relations for the 373-employee location. Although his title is executive chef, the director of dining at the location reports to him. Tim Fetter, executive chef for Parkhurst at Highmark Pittsburgh, which is located in the same complex as Reed Smith, says Shaffer’s vision, skill level and his willingness to work directly with his team have made him a successful director.
“He is very hands-on and he leads by example,” Fetter says. “He is very skilled in the kitchen and has a great vision all around, so his subordinates can trust his judgment and guidance with just about any situation. I have helped Jeff at his location and have always been impressed with the creativity and quality of his menus. The quality that he and his team produce is second to none. When that is the case, it always starts at the top. He really embodies the vision and mission of our company, which is ultimately great food and great guest service—two things in which he excels.”
Building trust: A big part of Shaffer’s management philosophy is establishing trust with his staff.
“You have to trust the people who work for you,” Shaffer says. “If you can’t trust them to do a good job and trust that they are going to treat the food and the guest as if it’s their own food to their friends and family, you really are starting off on the wrong foot. But you can’t just blindly trust them. You work with them and train them to build a trust with them. You know that your staff is going to take all that training and time you spend with them and really develop, grow and get pride out of what they are doing.
“You can’t be that manager or chef of how I came up where you always had that chef yelling at you and throwing plates. That just doesn’t work anymore. It’s not the way to get the best out of your people. Treat them with the respect they deserve on a basic human level. Show them how you want them to act, not by saying you need to act more like me but just by being proud in what you do and taking the time to give them attention.”
As a result of the trust Shaffer has built with his team, he’s been able to implement several new initiatives.
Rooftop garden: One of the initiatives that Shaffer is most proud of is the rooftop terrace garden he planted on the 13th floor of Reed Smith’s LEED-certified building.
“I grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and herbs that we use in the café,” Shaffer says. “This is our second season. We expanded it this year to include additional varieties of tomatoes. We also added the cucumbers, additional herbs and citrus trees, including a banana tree, this year. I don’t know how many chefs are growing their own bananas here in Pittsburgh, but I’m trying.”
Shaffer says the biggest challenge with the garden is the fact that it is on the building’s 13th floor.
“We’re in a plaza and unfortunately we are surrounded by other buildings that don’t allow for a lot of direct sunlight, so our harvest tends to be a little later,” Shaffer says. “Just being 13 stories up in the air and having to get compost and everything delivered that high is a challenge. Last year I was producing enough tomatoes to menu tomatoes from the garden exclusively on the deli for a couple days. I would say our total harvest throughout the entire season is maybe about 30 or 40 pounds of tomatoes. Peppers didn’t do very well last year, but we get enough basil, parsley, rosemary and other herbs to sustain us throughout the season. I don’t know what to expect out of the cucumbers this year since it’s the first time we’ve had them. I hope we’ll get enough to have pickles throughout the season.”
The garden isn’t the only place Shaffer sources local produce. The account also works with a farming cooperative called Penn’s Corner, which provides produce from within 100 miles of the city. “It’s been a great help having a partnership with them,” he says. During peak growing season, the operation purchases about 20% of its products locally. “It’s been great to have local items in the café and being able to advertise it and share it with our guests. They really enjoy it and know it comes from the area..”
Home meal replacement: Another initiative that has made customers happy is home meal replacements. Shaffer says there was a demand for the service from the associates at Reed Smith who work late. Since the café is only open for breakfast and lunch, those associates were left with few options.
“Employees can pick anything off our lunch menu on that particular day and we’ll package it, individually label it and put in a microwavable container for them to come pick up at their convenience,” Shaffer says. “If they are working late they can come pick it up and pop it in their office microwaves or take dinner home to their family. It’s been very popular.”
Shaffer says customers place their home meal orders when they come to the café during lunch. Menus are posted on Fridays for the following week so customers can plan ahead. “That way they can look ahead and plan and if they know they are running the kids to soccer practice that night they know they can order a meal from us, take it home, pop it in the microwave and have a good quality ‘home cooked’ meal without having to hit McDonalds. Plus the associates who are working late aren’t picking something out of the vending machine or something brown bagged from home.”
Shaffer says another part of that program that has really taken off, especially during the summertime, is packaging meals from the café’s premium grill, which is a station that offers steaks, nicer cuts of fish and seafood such as soft shell crabs.
“If someone wants to pick up a couple of steaks and take them home and barbecue them themselves they can do that,” Shaffer says. “I have a customer who faithfully comes in and buys our nice 2-inch rib-eyes every Friday and takes them home. We call that our Butcher Shop To Go. It’s a great convenience for them. The customers know they are getting quality stuff here. It’s fresh. I get local beef, local pork and things like that.”
New concepts: The premium grill was introduced last year to great success, says Shaffer.
“[Premium Grill] is part of our cook-to-order grill,” Shaffer says. “We have a glass case that showcases cut steaks, fish, soft shell crabs, veal chops, lamb chops, things that customers would usually have to go outside a corporate café to get. If they want to impress a client and take them to a steakhouse, we can offer them that same steak with the same quality and they don’t have to leave the building. Those entrées are packaged together with side dishes like fresh vegetables and starches. It changes daily.
“The premium grill has been around about a year. It’s been especially popular now that we have offered seasonal items like the soft shell crabs. We offered that for the first time this year and they’ve been selling like crazy.”
As a Parkhurst account there are standing café stations, such as the Parkside Diner, which serves homestyle entrées. Where Shaffer has really been able to innovate is at a station that allows for rotating concepts.
“We have concepts such as a taqueria, which had hand-rolled burritos with fresh salsas,” Shaffer says. “We’ve also done what we call a bento bowl, which is a stir-fry action station. We’re getting ready to launch a build-a-burger program, which is a customized burger with a lot of different meat and topping options. It’s always changing. I run the concepts for two weeks and then change them out. Then every quarter I bring in a new idea that the customers haven’t seen before. It’s a great way to test a few different concepts out before we commit to doing something companywide. It allows for creativity.”