How Networking Led to an Amazing Day at Gordon Food Service


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Life’s funny in the way it works. You will go through life meeting people at random times when you least expect it, and it’s always important to take the time to network with them. You never know what opportunities lie ahead.

Let’s talk a little bit about networking. As we all know, it plays such a huge role in the hospitality industry—and what better way to network as a chef than to get to know your vendors? One of The Culinary Institute of America’s suppliers is Gordon Food Service, a fifth-generation family business. This past March, when I was attending the Women’s Foodservice Forum, I met Donna Foreman, an executive assistant at Gordon’s main headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It just so happened that we sat right by each other during one of the general sessions and we were both from Michigan! Donna extended an invitation to come visit their headquarters one day if I ever happened to come back to Michigan.

During the bachelor’s break this April, I took Donna up on her offer while I was home in Bay City, and boy, was I in for a treat! She planned a whole day for me to meet with different teams at the company and even to sit down with the CEO, Rich Wolowski.

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Pulling into the parking lot that morning, I knew I was entering a great community. But it wasn’t until I had the chance to meet the employees that I realized that it was more like a family. I had the opportunity to spend quality time with Mary Beth Zick, the chief people officer at Gordon, talking about the importance of treating your employees right. Becky Ehrnstrom, the test kitchen manager, gave me a full tour of where they let their customers come in to showcase products, as well as space where their own chefs recipe test. Can you imagine creating a recipe that thousands of local and corporate chefs will see? How cool!

I also sat down with Kelly Smallegan-Maas, digital marketing manager for Gordon Food Service. She showed me how they come up with their viewpoints for both their websites and the behind-the-scenes letters that go out to vendors. One of Kelly’s jobs is to oversee their main Instagram account, which you should totally check out for new and upcoming posts! Lastly, I spent some time with Jeffrey Veeser, who is in organization development at Gordon, to see how you can develop a leadership program for a corporation of this magnitude. We walked through the training program and the different stages they implement as you climb the ladder with their company.

Overall, the day was a blast! It was truly an honor to have the opportunity to spend the day learning about yet another side of the industry. Thanks, Gordon Food Service!

By Olivia Weidner

Olivia Weidner

Olivia Weidner

Olivia is a student in the bachelor’s in food business management degree program with a concentration in Italian Cuisine that will be taking place in Puglia, Italy. She has already completed her CIA associate degree in baking and pastry arts. After she graduates, and as her career advances, Olivia hopes to obtain a position in an HR department of a Michelin-rated restaurant group. She is heavily involved in various areas of the CIA and acts as a great mentor to those who wish to join the future of the hospitality industry.
Olivia Weidner