Tech Food Manager Has ‘Appetite’ for Big Companies

After launching Google’s cafés and running eateries at Apple, John Dickman is remaking the dining experience at Intel.

John Dickman knows a thing or two about feeding high-tech workers. Google’s founders asked him to get their legendary Googleplex cafés off the ground. Then he jumped over to Apple.

Steve Jobs personally lured him into that café gig — but then shouted at him shortly after he was hired that his pizza was “terrible,” according to Dickman, who eventually moved over to Intel last summer.

Dickman’s mission as program manager of food services is to support the site managers at each of Intel’s 64 cafés worldwide in serving up delicious, convenient, high-quality and memorable experiences to employees. That means a laser focus on everything from menus and café layouts to customer service and the color of chairs.

A recently remodeled café in Santa Clara, Calif. and another newly opened in Hillsboro, Ore. are the first to be conceived under his direction and have garnered rave reviews from employees.

Neil Tunmore, director of Intel’s corporate services, which oversees all of Intel’s facilities and services including cafeterias, says food “is one of the things that helps retain employees.”

Over the years, Dickman has developed a hands-on approach that harkens back to his first job in the food industry: dishwasher in a Marriott hotel. From there he moved to airline catering, where he taught flight attendants how to prepare food on planes. In the mid-’90s, Dickman transitioned to the corporate world and managed food services at a host of Silicon Valley companies, including Oracle, Cisco Systems, Yahoo and National Semiconductor, before his stints with Google and Apple.

Despite his wealth of experience, Dickman isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and dive into managing the complex task of feeding thousands of hungry employees every day. Here’s an inside look at how he spent part of a day recently visiting Intel cafeterias at its sprawling campus outside of Portland, Ore.

10:24 p.m. – Dickman starts his “day” by meeting with a manager of Intel’s food service vendor at the Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro. He wants to be sure the night shift folks are fed well. Twice a week, night shift employees — most of whom work in the fab — enjoy a high-quality meal at a low price. Tonight’s menu includes grilled tri tip with chipotle-garlic spice rub, horseradish cream, herb roasted red potatoes, sherry vinaigrette, spinach and roasted tomato salad with a slice of pie — all for a company-subsidized price of $3.95.

11:20 p.m. – Dickman checks in with Michael Haughey, the lead line supervisor at the Oregon café serving the night shift. In addition to pushing for high-quality food, Dickman is also dealing with the unique requirements of Intel’s manufacturing environment. In China, for example, factory employees have a small window for lunch. Food for these employees used to be prepared way in advance — leaving hot food cold and cold food tepid. Not very appetizing. Dickman has changed that system, telling café staff to store food in hot boxes or coolers so that when it’s ready to be served, it’s at the right temperature and tastes delicious. He says that “I want to show shift employees some love.”

7:45 a.m. – Dickman grabs a cup of the darkest coffee, which he takes black, and gets on the phone with Intel’s Gordon Wilson in Germany to review café plans in Europe and the Middle East, including the brand new café at a fab in Israel. More than 2,500 employees attended that café’s opening in early April, which then had to be closed briefly so rabbis could sterilize the kitchen for Passover. Dickman said his team “always creates workarounds” for each site’s particular cultural or religious traditions. Intel has kosher kitchens in Israel and halal kitchens in Malaysia.

9 a.m. – Back in the newest Ronler Acres café, Dickman grabs breakfast and then looks over the layout for a planned upgrade to another café at the same campus. Instead of separate serving and dining areas, the latter will be interspersed with different “restaurants.” These will offer traditional fare (such as a salad bar), as well as some completely new options that include a “gastropub” and Asian fusion cuisine.

10:45 a.m. – What’s for lunch? Executive Chef Ron Stewart takes Dickman into the kitchen of a Ronler Acres café to see what Intel employees will be feasting on today. Here, Chinese steamed buns — cha siu bao – are ready for their barbeque pork filling. “Over the past few years, people’s palates have been educated,” says Dickman. “People demand culturally diverse cuisine — they want new, different flavors. It wasn’t long ago that people thought sushi was weird stuff — now it’s standard.”

11:01 a.m. – Inside one of the two massive fridges at the newest Ronler Acres café — kept at about 34 degrees — Stewart and Dickman check on the quality of locally sourced tomatoes. Both are proponents of using local ingredients for their better taste and smaller environmental footprint.

11:34 a.m. – Dickman meets with Brandon Bohling (left) and Eric Appel from Intel IT. The two are working with Dickman to create a desktop and smartphone app for all U.S. cafés. The app shows menus and lets employees rate and review each entrée. (Think Yelp.) Soon, the app will also include a “food-to-go” option so busy employees can order food and have it ready to be picked up — or, for a small fee, delivered straight to their desk or conference room.

12:42 p.m. – Dickman and Damien Davis, general manager of yet another Ronler Acres café, watch a staff member prepare a smoked house-made quail atop a bed of greens. “This is one of our most popular stations,” Davis tells him. One of Dickman’s challenges is breaking away from Intel’s “copy exactly” approach, which is how Intel cafés have long been built, with identical layouts and menus. “People eat differently,” he points out. Arizona and New Mexico prefer spicier foods. “If you don’t offer green chilies in New Mexico, you don’t stay open.” In one Santa Clara café he plans to open an additional tandoor to make the Indian fare even better — 60 percent of employees there are of Indian descent. In such places as China and Malaysia, the bulk of the menu is local cuisine, along with a “Western option.”

3:17 p.m. – Dickman and the executive chefs from Oregon’s seven cafés sip a chocolate shake made by a vendor that specializes in shakes made from gluten-free oats. The vendor is hoping Intel will stock its products. Their verdict? They’ll introduce a few of the products and see if they take off. In the future, Dickman wants to create a system in which his customers — Intel employees — help taste and vet new products.

4:10 p.m. – Dickman boards the Intel shuttle from Hillsboro back home to Santa Clara, where he looks forward to a quiet evening. His dinner at home that night? Steelhead trout that he grilled on the barbeque and placed atop an arugula salad. He eats out maybe twice a month, preferring the quality of what they can cook at home. “What can I say, I’m a foodie!”

Tech Food Manager Has ‘Appetite’ for Big Companies

After launching Google’s cafés and running eateries at Apple, John Dickman is remaking the dining experience at Intel.

John Dickman knows a thing or two about feeding high-tech workers. Google’s founders asked him to get their legendary Googleplex cafés off the ground. Then he jumped over to Apple.

Steve Jobs personally lured him into that café gig — but then shouted at him shortly after he was hired that his pizza was “terrible,” according to Dickman, who eventually moved over to Intel last summer.

Dickman’s mission as program manager of food services is to support the site managers at each of Intel’s 64 cafés worldwide in serving up delicious, convenient, high-quality and memorable experiences to employees. That means a laser focus on everything from menus and café layouts to customer service and the color of chairs.

A recently remodeled café in Santa Clara, Calif. and another newly opened in Hillsboro, Ore. are the first to be conceived under his direction and have garnered rave reviews from employees.

Neil Tunmore, director of Intel’s corporate services, which oversees all of Intel’s facilities and services including cafeterias, says food “is one of the things that helps retain employees.”

Over the years, Dickman has developed a hands-on approach that harkens back to his first job in the food industry: dishwasher in a Marriott hotel. From there he moved to airline catering, where he taught flight attendants how to prepare food on planes. In the mid-’90s, Dickman transitioned to the corporate world and managed food services at a host of Silicon Valley companies, including Oracle, Cisco Systems, Yahoo and National Semiconductor, before his stints with Google and Apple.

Despite his wealth of experience, Dickman isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and dive into managing the complex task of feeding thousands of hungry employees every day. Here’s an inside look at how he spent part of a day recently visiting Intel cafeterias at its sprawling campus outside of Portland, Ore.

10:24 p.m. – Dickman starts his “day” by meeting with a manager of Intel’s food service vendor at the Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro. He wants to be sure the night shift folks are fed well. Twice a week, night shift employees — most of whom work in the fab — enjoy a high-quality meal at a low price. Tonight’s menu includes grilled tri tip with chipotle-garlic spice rub, horseradish cream, herb roasted red potatoes, sherry vinaigrette, spinach and roasted tomato salad with a slice of pie — all for a company-subsidized price of $3.95.

11:20 p.m. – Dickman checks in with Michael Haughey, the lead line supervisor at the Oregon café serving the night shift. In addition to pushing for high-quality food, Dickman is also dealing with the unique requirements of Intel’s manufacturing environment. In China, for example, factory employees have a small window for lunch. Food for these employees used to be prepared way in advance — leaving hot food cold and cold food tepid. Not very appetizing. Dickman has changed that system, telling café staff to store food in hot boxes or coolers so that when it’s ready to be served, it’s at the right temperature and tastes delicious. He says that “I want to show shift employees some love.”

7:45 a.m. – Dickman grabs a cup of the darkest coffee, which he takes black, and gets on the phone with Intel’s Gordon Wilson in Germany to review café plans in Europe and the Middle East, including the brand new café at a fab in Israel. More than 2,500 employees attended that café’s opening in early April, which then had to be closed briefly so rabbis could sterilize the kitchen for Passover. Dickman said his team “always creates workarounds” for each site’s particular cultural or religious traditions. Intel has kosher kitchens in Israel and halal kitchens in Malaysia.

9 a.m. – Back in the newest Ronler Acres café, Dickman grabs breakfast and then looks over the layout for a planned upgrade to another café at the same campus. Instead of separate serving and dining areas, the latter will be interspersed with different “restaurants.” These will offer traditional fare (such as a salad bar), as well as some completely new options that include a “gastropub” and Asian fusion cuisine.

10:45 a.m. – What’s for lunch? Executive Chef Ron Stewart takes Dickman into the kitchen of a Ronler Acres café to see what Intel employees will be feasting on today. Here, Chinese steamed buns — cha siu bao – are ready for their barbeque pork filling. “Over the past few years, people’s palates have been educated,” says Dickman. “People demand culturally diverse cuisine — they want new, different flavors. It wasn’t long ago that people thought sushi was weird stuff — now it’s standard.”

11:01 a.m. – Inside one of the two massive fridges at the newest Ronler Acres café — kept at about 34 degrees — Stewart and Dickman check on the quality of locally sourced tomatoes. Both are proponents of using local ingredients for their better taste and smaller environmental footprint.

11:34 a.m. – Dickman meets with Brandon Bohling (left) and Eric Appel from Intel IT. The two are working with Dickman to create a desktop and smartphone app for all U.S. cafés. The app shows menus and lets employees rate and review each entrée. (Think Yelp.) Soon, the app will also include a “food-to-go” option so busy employees can order food and have it ready to be picked up — or, for a small fee, delivered straight to their desk or conference room.

12:42 p.m. – Dickman and Damien Davis, general manager of yet another Ronler Acres café, watch a staff member prepare a smoked house-made quail atop a bed of greens. “This is one of our most popular stations,” Davis tells him. One of Dickman’s challenges is breaking away from Intel’s “copy exactly” approach, which is how Intel cafés have long been built, with identical layouts and menus. “People eat differently,” he points out. Arizona and New Mexico prefer spicier foods. “If you don’t offer green chilies in New Mexico, you don’t stay open.” In one Santa Clara café he plans to open an additional tandoor to make the Indian fare even better — 60 percent of employees there are of Indian descent. In such places as China and Malaysia, the bulk of the menu is local cuisine, along with a “Western option.”

3:17 p.m. – Dickman and the executive chefs from Oregon’s seven cafés sip a chocolate shake made by a vendor that specializes in shakes made from gluten-free oats. The vendor is hoping Intel will stock its products. Their verdict? They’ll introduce a few of the products and see if they take off. In the future, Dickman wants to create a system in which his customers — Intel employees — help taste and vet new products.

4:10 p.m. – Dickman boards the Intel shuttle from Hillsboro back home to Santa Clara, where he looks forward to a quiet evening. His dinner at home that night? Steelhead trout that he grilled on the barbeque and placed atop an arugula salad. He eats out maybe twice a month, preferring the quality of what they can cook at home. “What can I say, I’m a foodie!”