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Hi.

Welcome to my blog on company culture! I’m traveling the country visiting companies with great workplace cultures and writing about them. Why? Find out here.

Julia Kortberg

julia@touringwithpurpose.com

Tasty Catering: Growing a Culture of Leaders & Family

Tasty Catering: Growing a Culture of Leaders & Family

TASTY CATERING AT GLANCE  

Founded: In 1989 by brothers Tom, Kevin, and Larry Walter in Elk Grove, IL. The idea for  Tasty Catering came about when customers began requesting picnics and catering services from the three brothers’ fast food hot dog restaurant, Tasty Dawg.

Employees: 50 full-time, 100 seasonal | Revenue: $10M

 Mission: Committed to better the lives of employees, their families and community.

 Focus:

1.     Helping Tasty Catering and sister company’s staff and families

2.     Helping Our Community

3.     Fun Events

Values:

1)    Always moral, ethical, and legal

2)    Treat all with respect

3)    Quality in everything we do

4)    High customer service standards

5)    A competitive and strong determination to be the best

6)    An enduring culture of individual discipline

7)    Freedom and responsibility within culture of individual discipline

Community: Tasty Cares is a group of employee volunteers that represent each of Tasty Catering’s teams as well as the sister companies. They do numerous charitable events throughout the year including school supplies drives for underprivileged children, Toys for Tots, and Adopt a Senior. Tasty Catering also works with That’s Caring, a giftlanthropist company (a made-up word to describe the practice of philanthropy through gifting) and donates food to hungry children for every gift that is purchased. Finally, Tasty Catering is also very big on internal community and serving one another’s needs.

Financially Transparent: Yes! Since, January 2012.

LET THE TOUR BEGIN

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Tasting Catering three times now in the last two years. Tasty Catering has been instrumental in my understanding of what makes a great company culture, so to me, there was no better way to end Pt #1 of the Touring with Purpose Tour, than with my friends at Tasty. While visiting, I spent most of my time with Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer, Tom Walter, as well as team members from one of Tasty’s sister companies nuphoriq, a marketing firm for catering companies. In addition to this visit, I am relying on previous visits to share my main takeaways:

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

1. Holding Team Members Accountable to Company Core Values

Like Red Caffeine, IMPACT, and  Mojo Media Labs, Tasty Catering didn’t always have a great company culture. In fact, Tasty Catering began its cultural transformation in 2006, when two young and promising team members (one of whom was Tom Walter’s son) challenged Tom’s command and control leadership style. Though it wasn’t easy, Tom realized he needed to change his top-down approach and become a more collaborative leader. This realization, coupled with defining their seven core values, began their cultural transformation as a company.

 Tasty Catering Core Values

1)    Always moral, ethical, and legal

2)    Treat all with respect

3)    Quality in everything we do

4)    High customer service standards

5)    A competitive and strong determination to be the best

6)    An enduring culture of individual discipline

7)    Freedom and responsibility within culture of individual discipline

Far from being just a metal plaque on the wall, these core values are integrated into Tasty Catering’s culture through their decision-making: including hiring, firing, and reward & recognition. Team members are held accountable to living out these values. In fact, if a team member violates a value once, it’s a verbal warning. If they violate a value a second time, it’s a written warning. If they violate a value a third time, the team member is terminated.

Tasty Catering leaders are also held to high standards of living out the core values. Once a quarter, team members evaluate senior leaders anonymously on their levels of trust, authenticity, and capacity to lead versus manage (more on this momentarily). The results are then posted on company video boards for two weeks. Evaluating senior leaders anonymously gives team members an opportunity to voice their opinions and holds leaders accountable to living the values.  

2. Growing a Culture of Leaders

As part of their cultural transformation, Tasty Catering realized they needed to transition from a top-down leadership approach to growing a culture of leaders. Here are three ways in which they empower their team to act as leaders:

Understanding Leadership versus Management

Tasty creates a culture of leaders, not managers. What’s the difference? As Chief Culture Officer, Tom Walter, says, “Management is a job. Leadership is a way of life.” Or in other words, managers have people work for them and leaders have people follow them. Overall, it’s about your ability as a leader to influence, motivate, and empower others to be successful.

“Management is a job. Leadership is a way of life.”- Tom Walter, Chief Culture Officer

Empowering Team Members to Come Up with The Answers

One way in which Tasty Catering promotes a culture of leadership is by empowering team members to come up with their own solutions. A few years ago, the three owners, Tom, Larry, and Kevin, came to the decision to stop giving team members answers. Instead, they expected team members to come up with three proposed solutions to answer their own questions or problems before weighing in. This helped team members to become more resourceful and to see themselves as capable leaders.

Promoting Leadership Through the Good to Great Council

Another way in which Tasty Catering promotes a culture of leadership is by ensuring that all team members voices are heard through their monthly Good to Great Council meetings. Inspired by Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” these monthly meetings are an opportunity for one owner, team representatives from each department, and a few interested team members, to sit together and address a company-wide topic or issue. For example, in October 2008, the Good to Great Council drafted an action plan addressing the recession. They decided that there would be an immediate 30% reduction in pay for owners and a 10% reduction in pay for salaried staff, after a certain decrease in sales threshold. Furthermore, the hourly culinary team voluntarily, and unanimously, chose to cut their hours to 25 hours per person, per week so that 5 people did not have to lose their income.  The result was that the equivalent of 7 jobs were “cut” or the decrease in labor equaled seven full time jobs. As a result of everyone being able to voice their opinions and be a part of the solution, no one was let-go and every team member felt valued in the organization.

Providing Mentorship to Foster Leadership 

Another way in which Tasty Catering fosters a culture of leadership is by pairing mentors and mentees with one another through their internal university, Tasty Catering University. In addition to helping new team members learn from more experienced team members, this mentor-mentee relationship exposes newer team members to different parts of the organization, which can lead to new career paths. For example, team member Many Davis, started as an apprentice culinarian after high school, worked in sales operations, and is now a project manager. Throughout this transition, she was also able to earn her BA. Successful career transitions like Mandy’s have a ripple effect on other team members, inspiring them to take initiative of their own career path.

3. A Culture of Family

From its inception, Tasty Catering has been a culture of family. The three brothers, Tom, Kevin, and Larry founded the organization. Tom’s wife, Bobbie, does the accounting. Erin, Tom Walter’s daughter and her business partner, Jamie Pritscher, are co-founders of nuphoriq and Touhy Capital, two of Tasty Catering’s sister companies. Tom’s son, Tim, co-founded TF Processors, Tasty Catering’s contract baking company.  

Not to mention, in addition to the Walters, there are generations of family members (Velazquez, Rios, Vazquez) who also work at Tasty Catering and have referred their family members and friends to join the team.

However, just because you have family members working in an organization, doesn’t imply that you have a healthy, functional, and positive family culture. A family-like culture is something that needs to cultivated and managed. While core values play a significant role in shaping how team members treat one another, another major component is caring for team members beyond employees and as individuals.

The Family Future Program is one example of how Tasty Catering cares for their team members beyond the workplace. Starting in 2019, the Family Futures Program will help team members’ children navigate the college application process beginning in high school. The idea for the program came to fruition when Tasty Catering realized that their team members – many of whom grew up in different parts of the world and have never attended a U.S. college – wanted their children to attend college, but were uncertain of how the U.S. college system worked.

Alma [a Tasty Catering team member] will be more engaged in her job, knowing that her company helped her daughter get into college because we removed a major personal disruptor.” – Tom Walter, Chief Culture Officer

The Family Future Program will start with high school, so that families understand what their children need to do (academics, extra-curricular, college admission tests etc.) to get into their preferred college.

This program will also help students and parents access and understand resources such as federal student aid (FAFSA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), mitigating serious concerns that many immigrant parents have when navigating the college admissions process. To compile all this information and make it accessible to parents and students, Tasty Catering built a custom software with a dashboard that can be accessed at any time. Furthermore, Tasty Catering plans to host “Open Houses”, informal informational sessions where parents and students can ask any questions they have about the college process.

While this is a formal example of how Tasty Catering cares for its team members, there are also countless informal examples of how they build a culture of family: from packing dinner for a team member as she’s heading to night school, to helping another coworker fix their home when it was damaged, to giving rides to the bus stop.

A SHORT STORY THAT CONCLUDES IT ALL

As I finished up my day with Tasty Catering, Chief Culture Officer, Tom Walter, offered to drive me to the airport. Seeing another team member, Vontae, get ready to go to the bus stop, Tom offered to drive him to the bus stop as well. With the three of us sitting the car, I asked Vontae about his experience working at Tasty. Without skipping a beat, he smiled and started excitedly telling me about his experience. He shared with me how he’s been working at Tasty Catering for ten months and loves it so much, that he wants to stay there until he’s as old as Tom. We all laughed. He told Tom, “I want your job someday” and Tom smiled back and said “You’ll probably have it.”

Midway through our conversation, Vontae apologized for having a stuttering problem, which I hadn’t noticed the slightest bit and told him so. Tom interjected, “It’s because he’s so passionate. When he’s passionate, he doesn’t stutter.” Vontae agreed and told me how he noticed this especially when he leads the Great Game of Business (GGOB) huddles every Wednesday, which is when Tasty Catering shares its financials with all of the company. Leading the GGOB huddles has significantly helped Vontae’s speech, as well as his financial literacy. Vontae shared with me how he’s saving money for the first time with the goal of having an apartment where his kids can live with him. Tom shared with me Vontae is so passionate about the huddles, that he surprised the team, when he showed up on his day off to lead a GGOB huddle. Vontae laughed and said “I didn’t want to miss it.”

I asked Vontae what made him love working at Tasty Catering so much and he went on to tell me because they trusted him from the beginning.

“On my first day, they gave me passwords and the codes to things. And I thought wow, if they trust me this much, I can trust them too.” - Vontae, Tasty Catering Team Member

And with a big grin on his face, he summed up why he loved working at Tasty Catering so much: “I’m not kissing butt” he said, “Because I mean it, this place is family.”  

UPDATE: Since visiting Tasty Catering in June, Vontae is proud to share that he indeed has his own apartment and that his son lives with him.

  Vontae and Tom smile for a picture before dropping me off at the airport.

Vontae and Tom smile for a picture before dropping me off at the airport.

Tasty Catering is company visit #21 of the Touring with Purpose Project.

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