How much does it cost to feed Google’s 50,000 employees endless amounts of free food?
Former executive head chef Nate Keller left in 2008 back when there were 19,000 employees. He can’t speak for Google now, but when he was running a team of 675 kitchen workers, he says Google was going through 40,000 meals per day and $US1 million worth of chicken per month.
Then, Google was spending an estimated $US20 per employee per day on food, or $80 million per year on food costs alone.
Now, the costs are likely much higher, but feeding employees gobs of goodies is almost expected in Silicon Valley. Twitter and Facebook also boast impressive free kitchens on their campuses.
Keller, who is now the lead chef at meal delivery startup Sprig, describes what it was like pioneering one of the biggest corporate kitchens in the world.
“I landed at Google in 2002,” Keller tells Business Insider. “At the time there were 400 employees and only 11 in the kitchen. From then until 2008 we were doing over 40,000 meals a day and had 675 employees in the kitchen.” Keller became executive chef when his boss, Charlie Ayers, stepped down in 2005. He launched Google’s kitchens in New York and all over the world, hiring a handful of other executive chefs for the tech giant.
“Google was growing so fast…it was like entrepreneurial boot camp,” Keller tells Business Insider. “Any idea could be a new Google restaurant in six weeks.”
We asked him a few other questions about the early days of running Google’s kitchen pre IPO, a job he initially turned down before a high school friend and his mother talked sense into him. His boss, Ayers, reportedly made $US26 million during the IPO. We asked how much Keller made, but he declined to answer.
Here’s the lightly-edited Q&A, which was conducted over the phone and via email:
Business Insider: How did you end up at Google pre-IPO?
Nate Keller: It was completely random. I had a friend from high school and I went to visit him thinking I wanted to work at a San Francisco restaurant. He said, “You should come look at the campus.”
I thought, “I don’t want to work in a cafeteria.” It sounded terrible. But I met with the chef and my friend said he liked me and that he wanted me to come in for a tryout.
I said, “I’m really not interested in that.” That wasn’t the career I looked at because it didn’t really exist back then. Google was a [kitchen] pioneer at that time…The was no Food Network. There were no celebrity chefs.
I originally turned down Google’s offer. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But my friend called and said, “Do you understand what you’re turning down?” I had no experience with [startups]. He said, “There are bonuses involved. This is what a stock option is.”
I ended up calling my mum [for advice]. She said, “You’re taking the job.”
BI: What it was like building out Google’s kitchen? Charlie left in 2005, you took over, what happened next?
NK: The company was blowing up and we were hiring in the kitchen like crazy. We ended up hiring 7 other executive chefs to spread the load out around the campus to manage the huge amount of talent coming through the door. We needed to open cafe after cafe in rapid fire mode, so all ideas for new concepts we’re on the table.
There were constant conversations about expansion into new buildings and how we were mapping out where each new cafe was going to be. We did that for about three years straight. During that time we also opened the New York and San Francisco offices as well as YouTube. As people came on and were trained and learned the systems, we slowly spread out the talent to then go and build their own teams. It was a great time to experiment with new ideas and concepts.
BI: Any fun facts about how the Google kitchen operates?
NK: It’s been a long time since I was with Google, but one of the best parts of the job is that I had unlimited resources which meant I had the luxury of trying a lot of different things.
For any Chef, it’s incredible to have that much creative licence and to also get feedback from your customers (or in my case, colleagues) in real-time.
BI: How did that Google experience prepare you for expansion at a place like Sprig, aside from the relationships with local farmers you built out?
NK: When I joined Google the company was in a hyper-growth cycle. In addition to growing and managing the kitchen and staff, we were opening a new cafe every 6 weeks in different cities around the world. My past experience of scouting new cities, identifying and working with local farmers and purveyors to keep the continuity of our product and opening and executing new kitchens at scale is something I’ve actively applied in my role with Sprig.
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