Food is at the heart of Mediacom enterprise

Mediacom Communications Corp is the US’s eighth-largest cable TV company, with more than $1.5bn in annual revenue and 2,981,000 subscribers in smaller markets in the South and Midwest. The company wanted to bring its expanding workforce closer together and treat them to some fresh, high-quality, healthy food.

Thanks to its rapid growth, the firm – which was founded in 1995, went public in 2000 and was taken private by chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso in 2011 – outgrew its offices in Middletown, New York.

Its new showplace headquarters in nearby Blooming Grove, which opened in late June 2013, includes its first on-site foodservice operation, an employee café, executive dining and catering, plus vending. Commisso’s sister, executive vice president Italia Commisso Weinand, says Mediacom originally served employees lunch once a week. “We found that to be a wonderful thing because of the camaraderie it created. Then we just got too big, and the office too small, to be able to accommodate what we used to do.”

The goal was to bring all their people, who were spread out in various locations, back together. This new office – two buildings on a corporate campus, one for 280 employees, the other for facilities – and dining facility accomplishes this. The dining facility was designed by Joe Raymond and Brett Farrell of Raymond/Raymond Associates (RRA), Warwick, New York, in collaboration with Angela Phelan and Tom MacDermott FCSI, of the Clarion Group in Kingston, New Hampshire. Phelan worked closely with Italia in developing the programme and planning the opening. MacDermott served as consultant for the RFP and competitive selection of the operator, Flik International.

Healthy food

As kids, Commisso and Weinand worked in a family pizza business, and so pizza is an important part of the new café. But healthy, local foods are also important elements of the service, which features all-fresh cuisine, prepared from scratch on site. It was Mediacom’s first real experience with the world of corporate foodservice and, says MacDermott: “Everything had to be done from scratch. There was nobody at the company who had the slightest experience. They knew the end result they wanted in terms of a very fine operation, and they were more than willing to subsidise it. But they had no idea how to get from A to Z. We had to explain almost every step along the way about how foodservice was going to work.”

Teaching became an essential part of the process. The restaurant seats 130, and is open for breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30am, and lunch from 11:30am to 2pm. There is also a catering operation for meetings and other on-site events, as well as chef-stocked vending machines offering sandwiches and hot entrées. The primary goal was to serve the healthiest food possible.

“We want to serve people well-made, fresh food that is sustainable in today’s unsustainable world,” explains Weinand. Another motivation was more logistical. “Because our campus is in the woods we wanted to accommodate our staff so they didn’t have to run around to find a restaurant.” Last but not least was the fact that management just plain “likes food. We like good food. We’re very picky.” “This was primarily Angela’s project,” MacDermott says. “She sat with them and spent a lot of time planning what was going to go in, how that was going to work, why you couldn’t do this and you can’t do that – focusing on an all-natural type of operation.” MacDermott developed the RFP for an operator “to clearly define exactly what it was that they wanted, their anticipation, as well as the basic requirements for the operation.”

Unique detail

According to Phelan, another memorable aspect of the project was “unquestionably the extraordinary building the client commissioned to house its national cable network”. The totally aluminium-clad building sits on the crest of a mountain ridge with commanding views in all directions. The interior shows off the latest in international design detail, with a fan-shaped dining facility with glass walls overlooking the valley below. The paved terrace that flows directly out of the dining room is dotted with bright umbrellas and has become a favourite spot for delighted employees.

“A unique detail of the building is the bright blue silo-shaped tower that houses three conference rooms, one on each floor,” Phelan adds. “The tower is meant to echo the silos of the farm community that surround Mediacom. This facility is clearly a marriage of technology and hospitality.”

The biggest challenge was to bring the disparate but deeply-held wishes of the clients to fruition, Phelan says. “Cafe Italia is the first dining facility the Commisso family has ever created for its employees. It was clear from the outset that the clients wanted something very special for their employees,” she notes, “and were unsure that using an outside provider was a better solution for them than creating an in-house service.” In the end it all came together seamlessly. “We believe we have accomplished our goal,” Phelan concludes. “And now, as with all new operations, we are supporting the client in their tweaking and refining of the process.”

Foodservice Consultant expert focus: Clarion Group

Clarion Group’s Tom MacDermott says that consultants studying this project can learn the fine points of “dealing with a client who has no experience or background at all in the corporate foodservice business and activities – what it might cost, what it entails; what is needed not just in terms of a facility but in terms of their responsibilities in working with the operator. That was the most important part, and took the most time in the whole operation.”

The owners decided to go with all non-disposable dishware made of a very high grade of plastic. MacDermott believes it was “definitely a good decision on their part. They wanted a first-class operation in line with their new headquarters and the professionalism of the company they are building. Going with permanent dishware was the most important element.”

Another lesson to be gleaned, says Phelan, is the importance of setting goals, reaching consensus and carrying out the mission in a timely manner. “It is very important to find the way to consensus with a disparate group of individuals operating in far-flung offices by encouraging them to speak to each other often and frankly.” On this project, the client instituted weekly conference calls with up to 10 stakeholders, which Phelan believes was very effective in keeping everyone on track.“It’s a model others would be wise to emulate,” she says.

In an ideal world, Phelan continues, the foodservice consultant should be the first person the client calls when they decide to build a dining amenity for employees. Often, the consultant can help the client decide if it’s wise for them to even take on the expense. “The numbers, well researched, can help the client immeasurably before the next step is taken. However, once embarked upon, the architect, the consultant and the foodservice kitchen designers, working together, can create a wonderful facility.”

Howard Reill


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