David Gorberg: proactive salesmanship

By showcasing his staff’s talent and drive, this operator is ‘building fans’ for Unidine at Tufts.

At a Glance

David Gorberg
General Manager
Unidine at Tufts Health Plan
Watertown, Mass.

  • 225—Pounds of food sold daily at the salad bar
  • 2012—The year Gorberg was hired
  • $250,000—Total catering volume
dave gorberg

Accomplishments

  • Building the most tenured team in the company through a management philosophy based on accountability and communication.
  • Using the success of the cafe’s salad and wellness bar—poundage moved has nearly doubled—to motivate employees and improve customers health.
  • Designing the Creative Cooking Well, cooking demos that educate customers on techniques, healthy foods and promote the program within the building.
  • Improving the location’s catering department by 42 percent through a proactive approach to retaining and gaining business.

When David Gorberg was growing up in New York City, he developed a knack for identifying what his neighbors were cooking by the smells wafting down the hallways of his family’s apartment building. He took this as his first lesson in salesmanship—food can be a connecting force. Today, fostering this connection remains a driving influence in his role as general manager for Unidine at Tufts Health Plan, a health insurance operation in Watertown, Mass.

“David’s inclusionary approach fosters a work environment where each Unidine team member clearly understands their role in making customer experiences exceptional for their discerning client population,” says Victoria Vega, vice president of operations for corporate culinary at Unidine at Tufts Health Plan. “With the lowest turnover and highest seniority within the Unidine division, David’s empowering nature directly contributes to his personal accomplishment and professional success.”

“I see myself as an operator and a salesman,” Gorberg says. “Anyone who comes and tours my facility will see quickly that I am a salesman for my team, outlet and company. My team models their behavior from mine, especially my chefs. Together we enjoy showing off our work and our specialties to each other and for our guests.” It’s an approach that supports Unidine’s Fresh Food Pledge, a commitment to food integrity, he says.

To build and retain his team, Gorberg says he has taken full advantage of the tools provided by the Unidine Support Center, such as monthly marketing suggestions and seasonal recipes that give employees something to be proud of. But he also has felt empowered to create programs he believes will work best for his specific clients and customers at Tufts such as Flavors 365, a monthly celebration of seasonal fruits and vegetables that includes recipes and promotional opportunities.

“When someone dines with us, we call it ‘building fans,’” Gorberg says. “We have different relationships supported by different members of my staff for virtually every customer we serve, which achieves the dual purpose of creating fans and bolstering the employee culture.”

wellness bar 2

Wellness bar

The star selling point of the 705 Café at Tufts Health Plan is the salad and wellness bar, which is designed to showcase the company’s commitment to creating a health and wellness culture, Gorberg says. The bar isn’t your typical iceberg lettuce and shaved carrots. On Wellness Wednesdays, the kitchen features special options such as steamed egg whites with toasted sesame and edamame or fresh-steamed grains and legumes with cut herbs from Tufts Health Plan’s summer garden-bed program.

Gorberg measures the team’s success by the poundage the salad bar moves, which has increased exponentially under his leadership—a fact he touts on a monthly basis to his corporate bosses. As part of this daily challenge, the total weight sold is posted on the wall. There’s no physical prize handed out, but pride among the staff is its own reward.

“When I arrived at the location in 2012—my executive chef [Elias Neto] and I started on the same day—salad bar consumption was averaging 125 pounds per day,” says Gorberg. “Now we average about 225 per day.” The next milestone is a 300-pound day, a goal he says the team has nearly attained.

wellness bar 4

Hello, goodbye

Gorberg thrives on keeping his management style simple, and nowhere is that reflected more than in his No. 1 rule when dealing with staff.  “I start each day with a warm welcome to each team member,” he says. “Then I expect them to say goodnight to me, which gives us a chance to go over any issues they had during the day.” At that point, he encourages them to disconnect from work. “I want them to leave and feel free to enjoy the evening with their family. That’s how I show them that accountability and communication are key to our success.”

It’s a small thing, but it pays off, he says. “Half of my staff has been here 14 years,” Gorberg says. “I don’t want them to go anywhere, so I need to show them that I appreciate them being so good at what they do.”

Proactive program

Gorberg extends his wellness initiatives beyond Unidine’s four walls with his Creative Cooking Well demonstrations, which grew from his desire to proactively support the healthy culture of the building. The interactive demos are shot a few times a year in front of five cameras and 60-70 employees—which Gorberg and Neto do all in one take. During the demos, Gorberg talks about his life and offers the audience cooking secrets and other food tips. Tufts Health Plan provides a database of recipes and three-minute recipe videos on its employee intranet.

A proactive approach also has served Gorberg well in catering. Since taking over the account, he’s grown the catering business from $180,000 to more than $250,000, spending his first year on the job establishing relationships in sales and listening to customer feedback. Now, he’s proud of the accountability his team has shown clients.  “We never want the client to be unsatisfied,” he says.

Gorberg and Neto come from a similar restaurant background, with a focus on Italian and Mediterranean cooking and serve as a support system for each other in managing family and work obligations. With their customer service-oriented personalities and levelheaded, calm demeanors, Gorberg says the two have developed a kinship like no other.

“I think it’s just a result of our commitment to develop our program,” Gorberg says of his success. “I think a lot of this is attributed to my chef and I being best work buddies.”
 

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