Chef Charlie Ayers knows a thing or two about shaping startup culture.
Ayers joined Google as its first executive chef way back in 1999, when the company had less than 50 employees.
After getting hired through a cook-off competition against other potential candidates, Ayers spent the next six years helping Google form and solidify its reputation for serving employees delicious and healthy food.
Ayers thinks that providing good food is so important for startups — even those strapped for cash — because it energizes employees, which will help them be able to work better and harder.
“Your employees are your most valuable assets, why wouldn’t you invest in what’s best for them?” he tells Business Insider. “If you feed them the very best, you’ll get the biggest return. If you can’t afford to give them the greatest working environment, or robust salary, or benefits, the very least you can do is feed them well on a daily basis. And that goes miles.”
Ayers says companies should serve their employees wholesome food, so their bodies won’t be taxed with metabolizing high-fructose corn syrups or lots of carbs.
“If you give your employees piles of Dominos and gallons of coca-cola, you’re not doing anyone any good besides the guy who sold it to you,” he adds for emphasis.
Giving employees amazing food right at work also lets them save time or avoid expensive delivery fees.
By the time Ayers left Google in 2005, he had built a team of five chefs and 150 other kitchen workers, and they were serving 4,000 lunches and dinners a day. Ayers wrote a cookbook with tips and recipes based on his experience and told Business Insider that he still occasionally works for Google in an advisory role. His legacy also lives on at the Googleplex: Charlie’s Cafe dishes out a wide variety of healthy cuisine.
He also does food consulting for startups like Dropbox, Zazzle, and Gaia Online, as well as bigger companies like Facebook and Palantir.
“Mark Zuckerberg asked me to come in and give them advice on how to do what Google did,” Ayers says.
Before joining the search engine (and reportedly making $US26 million during its IPO), Ayers catered for The Grateful Dead and he now owns a restaurant called Calafia and a cafe called Market A GoGo in Palo Alto.
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