Lunchroom, redefined: How Plum Market is rethinking the corporate cafeteria
August 28, 2017 05:00 AM
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"We're actually disrupting the food service category by taking the historically institutional concept of the cafeteria and tailoring it to the needs of the individual," said Plum Market Cofounder Matt Jonna.
Perfectly grilled salmon with a housemade balsamic glaze, topped with a Michigan corn and organic tomato relish, rests atop a steaming bed of organic, long-grain brown rice.
This is isn’t your typical corporate lunchroom.
Michigan-based Plum Market was co-founded by Matt and Marc Jonna, who just celebrated the company’s 10-year anniversary. They’ve developed a reputation for quality and service at their six retail locations across Southeast Michigan and Chicago and are now expanding their focus to offer that same gourmet dining experience at work.
The company’s growing food service division operates 10 cafeterias inside companies and schools including Lear Corp., Magna International, Taubman Centers, Penske Corp., and Detroit Country Day School, with several new kitchens opening next year. These operations serve more than 5,000 guests each day, a number that is projected to double in the next 24 months. In its cafeterias, Plum Market Kitchen provides a neighborhood boutique feel, stocked with healthy, attractive options that taste as good as they look.
“A lot of companies that select us want to give their employees that extra 1 percent. It really goes a long way for recruitment and rewarding talent,” said Jonna, who is CEO. “There is a lot of excitement when they see us come to a building. When your team doesn’t have to switch gears for lunch there’s more time for networking and team building. ”
The making of a lunch menu
In setting up a new food service account, Plum Market begins with a stockpile of legacy recipes. And then the fun begins.
“Just like our stores have unique needs and tastes, so do our cafeterias. We’re actually disrupting the food service category by taking the historically institutional concept of the cafeteria and tailoring it to the needs of the individual,” Matt Jonna said.
Plum Market customizes each cafeteria to a client’s specific wants and needs, including identifying allergies in the building.
“One campus sets up an omelet bar on Wednesday, another really likes low-carb options, vegetarian, and seafood dishes. Other clients are more meat-and-potato,” said Chef Kelly Toone, adding that theme days, like Spanish Day and Mediterranean Day, are very popular. Clients can experience untraditional flavors bringing flare to the work week.
Chef Toone is the VP of Food Service for Plum Market and works onsite with each location’s Campus Director. Feedback flows into the kitchen and adjustments are made by listening to the guest’s needs. “We’re like a speed boat,” Toone said. “We can turn quickly and make fast adjustments to the menu.”
(Take a tour of the Taubman cafeteria at the end of this article.)
Each cafeteria has a commercial kitchen on-site. Nothing is brought in prepared; everything is made from scratch, giving Plum Market chefs creative freedom. Each day, a typical cafeteria menu includes:
All-natural soups with vegetarian choices and meat-based options.
Build your own salad bar with fresh greens and seasonal veggies, plant-based proteins like quinoa and pumpkin seeds, and housemade dressings.
Self-service hot food bars with several recipes, including lean protein entrées and gourmet side dishes.
Kitchen grill with made-to-order options, from paninis and wraps to build-your-own all natural burgers.
Grab and go drinks and packaged organic snacks.
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
One thing that never changes is the Plum Market quality. The food service division has an organic focus and uses all-natural proteins, including Bell & Evans chicken and Niman Ranch beef.
Every dish is prepared with both the health conscious and foodies in mind.
“We are selective,” said Plum Market Cofounder Marc Jonna, “We have to be partners with the corporation and believe in the same goal. We will not compromise what Plum Market is.”
The mission, according to the Jonnas, is to recreate how people think about eating at work. It's fast and casual but it’s fine dining. It’s filling but clean. It’s delicious but healthy.
With the growing attention to food quality and eating right, a corporate cafeteria that offers healthy options can help a company attract talent.
“How employees are treated means a lot,” Matt Jonna said. “We make our guests feel special. What we offer is quality and service above and beyond.”
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Farmington Hills, Mich.
Gourmet grocery concern Plum Market’s growing foodservice division operates 10 locations inside companies and schools, with clients including Lear Corp., Magna International, Taubman Centers, Penske Corp and Detroit Country Day school. This fall, the company will add Oakland University’s newly renovated student center to the list, and the company was also recently announced as the official foodservice provider for the Detroit Pistons.
In all, these operations serve more than 5,000 guests each day, a number that Plum projects will double in 2018.
Meanwhile, the parent company currently operates six grocery stores, including a hybrid operation at Detroit Metropolitan Airport that offers a mix of retail packaged goods and prepared foods to go. A seventh store is slated to open in midtown Detroit next year. Total company revenues are around $120 million annually. Plum Market Food Service operates under either the Plum Market Kitchen (corporate dining) or PlumSmart (schools) brands, with expansion in those segments as well as into healthcare institutions, colleges, airports and sports facilities actively being cultivated.
Opened in 2015, the Detroit airport location operates from a 3,000-square-foot space carries an array of natural and organic snacks and prepared foods from both Plum Market and Zingerman’s, a diversified food supplier of products ranging from baked goods and candy to coffee and cheeses. The airport store also includes a wine bar and a Zingerman’s branded coffee bar.
Each location has a commercial onsite kitchen and everything is made from scratch, giving Plum Market chefs creative freedom. Menu offerings include all-natural vegetarian and meat-based soups, build-your-own salad bars with fresh greens and seasonal veggies, self-service hot food bars with lean proteins and gourmet side dishes, vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options grab-and-go drinks and packaged all natural, organic or specialty snacks