Silicon Valley was a completely different world when Fedele Bauccio started his restaurant company in 1986.
Called Bon Appetit Management Company, Bauccio’s business sought to completely revolutionise the corporate cafeteria.
“I was with a public company for many years, so I understood what was going on there, but I was kind of appalled at the state of corporate food — the mystery meat, frozen food. I felt strongly that I could create a restaurant company with talented chefs and change that part of the industry,” Bauccio told Business Insider. “That was unheard of in 1986.”
One of Bon Appetit’s first clients was a young company called Oracle, whose CEO, Larry Ellison, wanted to set up a paninoteca, or classic Italian sandwich shop, at the company’s Redwood Shores campus.
“Being Italian, I said, ‘I could do that,'” Bauccio said. “But we knew a sandwich shop wasn’t going to last long.”
What they decided to do instead would change Silicon Valley culture forever. Bon Appetit installed a number of small, customised restaurants — Japanese, Mediterranean, and Indian eateries, for example — situated among the headquarters’ many office buildings.
Soon, other companies were following suit.
“We got lucky because we were in the middle of this startup world in San Francisco and Silicon Valley,” Bauccio said. “Once we started doing things with Oracle and others, other companies felt that they should do it also.”
Bon Appetit currently operates more than 500 cafes across the country, including at offices for Google, eBay, Adobe, LinkedIn, Uber, and Yahoo, among many others. They also operate restaurants at 200 universities and several museums.
With more than 30 cafes serving nutritious, free food to about 30,000 employees at their Mountain View headquarters, Google has become the gold standard of dining in Silicon Valley. Each cafe has its own concept — from Mexican cuisine to vegan specialties — and a menu focused on using local ingredients.
Variety is key for tech workers, many of whom spend more time in the office than they do out of it.
“These people creating new products now — there’s no beginning or end of the day for them. They’re here all the time,” Bauccio said. “No one wants to eat in the same place five days a week. It challenged us to create different experiences that create what I call ‘casual collisions’ — that as people break bread together, they come up with new ideas and innovations.”
Bon Appetit’s latest venture at Google is Kitchen Sync, a health-and-wellness cafe that has its own teaching kitchen run by top-notch chefs. The idea is that employees can learn solid skills for healthy cooking that they can eventually bring them home to their families.
Bon Appetit’s most popular venture at Google, however, has been Cafe Baadal, an Indian restaurant with a prix fixe menu and delicious small plates. Googlers can make reservations, and many people stand in line to grab a bite.
“It was in an old cafeteria that they had, and we wanted to change it up,” Bauccio said. “It’s healthy, and the flavours are great.”
According to Bauccio, Bon Appetit has a few major concerns when creating new cafes. First, seasonal and fresh ingredients are of supreme importance, and the company insists that chefs use produce grown within 50 miles of a particular cafe.
Authenticity is also incredibly important. Before they determine a menu for a particular cafe, Bon Appetit conducts multiple focus groups to make sure they are well acquainted with the culture and demographics of the company.
The variety is obviously great for employees, but it’s attractive to chefs, too. Unlike in the restaurant industry, chefs who cook in corporate cafeterias work standard hours and enjoy employee benefits. Bon Appetit employs many talented chefs, including several who have won the prestigious James Beard Award.
“We now have more resumes than we can use. With us, they can use their love, passion, and soul, and make relationships with local farmers,” Bauccio said. “Once we get chefs, they don’t leave.”