An Epic Food Story
Chef Eric Rupert oversees the ultimate workplace dining experience at Epic Systems
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Food at Epic is available around the clock, although the vast majority of business is lunch. There’s a grab-and-go packaged food section of Turner’s General Store, the in-house convenience store, one of several obvious concessions to the hundreds and hundreds of daily departures for site-oriented training, and everything is purchased on an honor system by simply swiping your employee card. Leftovers from lunch go into the late-night cooler, and employees in the office after 7 p.m. can simply help themselves for free. What doesn’t go into the cooler is donated to the Community Action Coalition for distribution to local food pantries.
Coffee carts open at 7:30 a.m., and there’s a café that specializes in baked goods, such as homemade cinnamon rolls, brioche, palmiers and Florentines, plus Anodyne coffee from Milwaukee. It seems like most coffee shops get one thing right, either the coffee or the bakery. They’re both done right here.
Mikey’s is the name of the on-site deli, where everything from the wall murals to the pastrami evokes New York’s Grand Central Station. It’s also an example of how Epic works with its food team: If someone has a good idea, it can happen. “Mikey” said, “Let’s do a deli.” Employees and visitors from the East Coast rave, and there’s no higher praise than that. Nutrition is encouraged, if not at the expense of employee tastes. There’s a clever, color-coded calorie indicator system, with a limit of one red-tagged, six- to eight-hundred-calorie option prepared each day. Soda costs $1.50. Milk and juice are free.
But if there are to be the natural comparisons to the popular culture image of the twenty-four-hour-a-day, help-yourself-to-anything-you-can-think-of food services at other big tech companies, they end with two specific aspects of the Epic system. First, the food is not free. Employees pay the cost of ingredients and, if it’s prepared to go, the cost of packaging. That’s it. A beautiful, fresh salmon entrée at lunch will set you back $4.75. “Because we charge people a little bit for it, they value it a lot more,” says Rupert.
The other difference, at least compared to Microsoft, where the food is provided by selected vendors, is the food at Epic is all made from scratch with a menu that changes every day. It is a fundamental precept of the company that Rupert finds rewarding, and challenging.
“I’ve never worked harder in my life,” he says, “but I’ve never derived more satisfaction from my work. And I think a lot of people would say the same.”
It is impossible to miss Rupert’s pride in his team. “We don’t do fancy food, we just do really great ingredients and we treat them with a lot of respect.”
Food service employees rotate through the various stations in the kitchen, spending time making salads, for example, then at the entrée station, then making soups. Learning and improving are part of the culture. As we walked around we saw several people training in certain elements in which they had requested to learn. It’s the team leader’s job to encourage good ideas and ensure they come to fruition. So if employees have recipes they really want to make happen, they get the opportunity.
“And that’s one of the ways we grow our staff,” says Rupert.
Of course they also entertain ideas from their customers. One of the by-products of having food play such an important role in the work culture is that it stimulates conversations on the topic. Rupert says employees are always talking about recipes they’ve found or dishes they’ve tried or seen on TV, and the culinary team is often willing to try them. And then there’s the cultural diversity that comes with the territory. Rupert says Epic employs staff from fifty-five different countries. “We have learned a great deal about curries, regardless of where they’re from, because our population here knows a thing or two about curries. And because feedback is a big part of Epic, they know that we receive it and that we try to make it better.”
Employees Dish: Find out what what Epic employees have to say about Rupert and the culinary team.