A retail giant partners with a restaurant group to bring variety to employees.
At a glance
The Kitch at Kohl’s Corp.
Menomonee Falls, Wis.
2,200—Meals served daily to 5,000 Kohl’s employees
70—Foodservice employees (30 cooking, 40 serving at stations)
730—Seats indoors, plus 340 outdoors on two patios
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Meet The Kitch at Kohl's Corp.
When employees at Kohl’s corporate office—located in the outskirts of suburban Milwaukee—wanted to go out to eat, their choices were limited to a few nearby fast-food chains.
As part of an initiative to improve the experience, Kohl’s set out to turn office space into a dining mecca that would keep employees on campus for meals and provide them with a place to collaborate away from their cubicles. To make it happen, they hired Milwaukee-based Bartolotta Restaurants, which operates more than a dozen locations in the Milwaukee area and also runs Downtown Kitchen, a foodservice operation in the city’s U.S. Bank Center with a food hall-like format that’s open to the public.
“[Kohl’s] made a significant investment in their workforce, and this particular design and build was all about the recruitment and retention of the employee,” says Joe Bartolotta, co-owner of The Bartolotta Restaurants group. The result is The Kitch, a contemporary food hall-inspired space with 18 stations serving dishes from slow-cooked brisket to sushi to frozen custard.
“[With The Kitch,] we were trying to create this culture away from Kohl’s. There’s no internal branding from Kohl’s at all in the space,” Bartolotta says. The result is a relaxed space with a fireplace, wooden communal tables, booths lined with plaid wallpaper and two patios for outdoor dining.
“You go from being in an office with no music, white noise, working at your desk in a cube to this totally different space,” says Chris Adams, multiunit director for The Bartolotta Restaurants. “I think it really helps the productivity of the company, and that’s what we’ve heard.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Options for all
“At Kohl’s, it’s a lot of young people and they’re very up on trendy, fashionable things.” Adams says. “We know that millennials, through our research and trial and error, are looking for variety, for fresh ingredients.” Some stations, such as Pizzeria Piccola, are branded to match popular Bartolotta restaurants.
Because Asian fare fell outside his group’s expertise, Bartolotta chose to partner with a different contractor to run stations for sushi, stir-fry and ramen. “They do a grab-and-go microwavable ramen bowl with noodles, egg, chicken, pork or vegetables, and the broth is packaged separately,” says Executive Chef Peter Ziolkowski. “You microwave the broth and pour it on.”
In the weeks after opening, Bartolotta and his team kept an eye out for gaps and oversights in their menu offerings. He noticed a group of employees of Indian heritage who had brought their own lunches. “I went over [and said], ‘Sorry to interrupt—why don’t you eat the food in the cafeteria?’” Bartolotta says. “[They said] there wasn’t much for them to eat; they’re vegan and vegetarian for the most part.”
To fill the void, he hired Alamelu Vairavan—who hosts her own cooking show called “Healthful Indian Flavors with Alamelu” on Milwaukee Public Broadcasting—as a consultant to create authentic dishes for a new Indian station. “We brought her in for a three-week stint and marketed her, and we’re selling about 150 lunches a day out of the Indian [food] section now,” Bartolotta says.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Change is key
Though there is no shortage of options at The Kitch, the team is adamant that continuing existing offerings won’t be enough to keep diners engaged. “Everybody loves pizza, but after a while, pizza is not really that great when you can eat it every day,” Adams says. “If Christmas was every day, how boring would that be?”
The advantage of being under The Bartolotta Restaurants umbrella is the potential to cross-pollinate with pop-ups from other chefs in the restaurant group. “Different chefs from our other restaurants will come in and maybe [for] one week, have a station,” Adams says.
To bring diners back in before they head home, The Kitch recently launched ready-made dinners, such as take-and-bake pizzas and rotisserie chicken with sides, with the goal of appealing to young people, single people or those who are newly married, Adams says. For Kohl’s employees who want to cook on their own but skip a grocery trip, he hopes to offer meal kits later this year.
Off-meal snack and beverage options aim to bring employees back to The Kitch to work away from their desks solo or in groups. “You’re in a cube all day long, so you can only handle it so much,” Adams says.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Meet the FSD: Peter Ziolkowski
Executive Chef, The Kitch
How do you make sure all diners’ needs are represented?
That’s what makes my job hard—what do we serve, how do we serve it, and where do we serve it from? Do we concentrate on the vegans and vegetarians? Or do we concentrate on the grill [with items like] burgers, because that’s a go-to? I try to make everyone happy by doing healthy items and some classical [dishes] that aren’t necessarily healthy.
What are some of your plans for new offerings?
We are going to work with Kohl’s and their Weight Watchers program here. On a daily basis, I’m going to try and offer a Weight Watchers item off whatever station. We want to try and capture someone who is not coming down [to The Kitch] because they’re following the program, and say, “Here’s an entree, here’s the recipe, here’s all the info about it, here’s the points.”