Q&A with Amelia Ekus, Area Manager, NYC Region, Guckenheimer

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Amelia Ekus GuckenheimerAmelia Ekus has been surrounded by culinarians and hospitalitarians since birth! She grew up in Hatfield MA, in a house constantly hosting both social and charity dinners, filled with cookbook authors, chefs, and restaurateurs.

Those influences led Amelia Ekus to graduate from NYU, with a concentration entitled “Activism in the Food Industry” and a minor in Social Entrepreneurship. While working as a manager at rising star restaurants dell’anima and L’Artusi she quickly demonstrated a vision toward philanthropic and environmentally sound practices, and created the position of Director of Community Development for the restaurant management company, Epicurean Management. After five years with Epicurean, Amelia went back to the service floor and managed Jonathan Waxman’s West Village staple, Barbuto. 

Amelia was then recruited by one of her customers to be the head of Food + Beverage for Neuehouse, a private membership community where she integrated her love of the arts into day-to-day service. Amelia’s pursuit of the creative then brought her to Twitter, where she began as General Manager for Guckenheimer. She reveled in the unique opportunity to test out concepts in an environment that values innovation through experimentation. She then developed the role into Senior Food Service Director and opened accounts in the New York and New Jersey region.

Now, Amelia Ekus is an Area Manager in the NYC Region. She is a member of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance and the James Beard Green. Amelia was named one of Eater’s 2017 Young Guns, an honor bestowed upon the brightest up and coming talents in the Food Industry in the USA. She has been recognized for her work building the Corporate Cafe for Twitter in Business Insider, Food Management Magazine, Specialty Food Magazine, Biz-Women Online and by Total Food Service as one of the Top Women in Metro New York Food Service and Hospitality.

Amelia Ekus sat down with Total Food Service’s Joyce Appelman to talk about her inspirations, her role at Guckenheimer, and goals for the future.

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As a child, was there someone that had an impact on you getting into the business?

My mother and sister run a literary agency and PR firm for cookbook authors and chefs, and I began working at my father’s barbecue restaurant at age 14 as a busser. My step-dad was constantly entertaining. I was surrounded by food and service. My favorite chore as a child was to set the table and do flower arrangements for dinner parties! I learned about work ethic, ownership and respect as all of my family were entrepreneurs.

Can you talk about some of the mentors along the way that had an impact on your career?

I have been lucky to have so many people who have supported and taught me. First and foremost, I call my family when I want to celebrate a win or face a tough situation. Guckenheimer’s CEO, Helene Kennan, became a mentor before I worked for the company, through our involvement with the Women’s Chefs & Restaurateurs group where she was then president. Helene helped me realize that restaurants were not the only place where quality food and service could be delivered. She opened my mind to the challenge and now I am committed to changing the perception of corporate dining.

Steve Zagor, one of my professors at NYU, continues to be a mentor. He shared his extensive experience, wins and losses, and he taught in a way that was exciting and creative. He pushed us to think like business owners instead of students. I still call on him for advice.

What brought you to your current position?

Honestly, it was Helene. I was so convinced that the only way to be successful in this industry was to work in a traditional restaurant and to outwork everybody around me – not with quality, just with sheer hours.  I wanted an opportunity to be creative, to have the freedom to play. I wanted to contribute something. Helene opened my eyes to the world of corporate dining. Once I realized I could produce experiences that were as engaging as within traditional restaurants, I was in. I have learned skills that most people learn in a trial by fire environment once they try to open their own shops  – merchandising, kitchen design, choice architecture. The reality is that the volume in corporate dining has so much power to affect change – we can help to support growers and creators through our sourcing, partner with major companies on their sustainability initiatives, and help support corporate culture – we are truly nourishing the minds at some of the best places to work in the world! 

Guckenheimer is a leader in corporate dining experiences, building innovative food spaces that power healthy workforces, spark collaboration, and improve employee engagement. How would you describe the needs of your customers?

Our clients are incredibly diverse. Some are focused on health and wellness to promote that culture in the workplace and optimize employee well-being. Others are focused on creating communal spaces to encourage casual collisions and spur creativity. Some clients are looking for brain food – services that optimize productivity, and others are trying to stay competitive in a tough hiring market. Most are a combination, threading in responsible sourcing, quality ingredients, supporting the local economy and of course, reducing waste. My clients see our offerings as an extension of their corporate culture so we work together to align our values and create a well-rounded experience for their employees.

How have those needs evolved and what has your company done to respond to those needs?

Many of our clients are focused on inclusivity, from a dietary standpoint as well to the way they are building their office spaces. We are seeing a rise in alternative office environments that support diverse work styles. They are looking for suppliers who can match the flexibility they are providing and go far beyond just maintaining a facility or cooking food – they are looking to create an experience for their employees, that is open to all of their employees. We have an entire Workplace Experience team designed to help integrate the management of our clients’ service lines and provide that seamless culture of hospitality. 

Crystal ball. What’s on your agenda?

I’d like to open up a restaurant just outside of a major city, inspired by the service model of a Japanese Ryoken – a warm environment that epitomizes hospitality, highlights growers and creators in support of the local economy and features design-forward lodging options to extend the experience.

Joyce Appelman is the SCOOP News Editor and Senior Contributing Writer for Total Food Service and previously the National Communications Director for C-CAP, Careers through Culinary Arts Program. An industry leader supporting education and scholarships, she has been instrumental in opening career opportunities for many young people in the foodservice industry. Email her at joyceappelman@gmail.com