Fuel Culture, Work Happy

Oct. 22, 2020
Corporate Essentials navigates the pandemic’s challenges in the competitive metro New York City market by pivoting to serve new needs and redefining the ultimate break room experience

Corporate Essentials lives by the motto “Fuel Culture. Work Happy,” and while today’s challenges require a new round of ingenuity, fortitude and stamina, founder and CEO Judson Kleinman is rising to the occasion.  

“It may not be what it was, but the workplaces are returning and reenergizing and we have a big role to play,” Kleinman said. “We all have to find ways to change and reinvent and be true to why we’re in this business. We’re here to help our customers with recruitment, retention, and happiness, and now to create a safe experience.”

Corporate Essentials was on a steady upward trajectory as a leading workplace refreshments provider in the metro New York City market, with nine consecutive years of 20% growth. It moved into its Parsippany, N.J., headquarters in 2012 with a 28-person team and expanded to occupy its current 50,000 sq. ft. space a few years later to accommodate its rapid growth.

Kleinman was a pioneer of the pantry service concept, stocking break rooms with complementary refreshments as an employer-subsidized amenity for employees, which took hold like wildfire in the Big Apple, further contributing to its growth. The company’s staff had grown to 140 just before COVID-19 forced a major round of layoffs and pay cuts in March when the nation shut down.

Now the operator’s focus, like that of his industry peers from coast to coast, is on rebuilding and restrategizing. 

“How do we as an industry become a trusted resource for clients to rethink how they come back to work in a safe manner?” Kleinman asked. “We always focus on culture, and now they will come back to a new one. We’re in break rooms every day and we need to formulate new ideas for a new environment and share them and implement them. It’s just a different circumstance that we and our clients never had to encounter. New York was the epicenter of this virus and we turned it around together and we will continue to rebuild.”

Kleinman and other leading operators from around the country formed an informal support group to share ideas about how to navigate this challenging time, which he said has been invaluable on both a professional and a personal level.

Breathe Easy

Corporate Essentials is doing its part to safeguard employees returning to work with new solutions that are expanding its role as a convenience service provider.

“We’ve been consultants to help our customers through the pandemic and have been proactive to deliver solutions they may not even know they need or know exist,” Kleinman commented.

Among them is the TopBrewer coffee-on-tap system, which isn’t new to Corporate Essentials but is more relevant now than could have been anticipated with its touchless capability to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Manufactured in Denmark, the system dispenses coffee and espresso- based drinks from a faucet that is easily integrated into any environment. It features two separate grinders for coffee and true espresso and refrigerated milk that can be foamed for cappuccinos. It’s controlled by a mobile app that allows users to use their smartphones, Apple Watches, and/or Siri to meet their exact taste, or by a touchscreen display. 

Corporate Essentials has also been advising clients to convert to several “micro” break rooms to facilitate social distancing. To offer an added layer of protection, locations can opt to apply continually self-cleaning “NanoSeptic” film to shared touchpoints, including cabinets and door handles, coffee machines and elevator buttons, which provides an added revenue stream for Corporate Essentials.

Another COVID-focused solution Corporate Essentials is offering is filtration technology that reduces bacteria, viruses, mold and fungi in the air and on surfaces up to 2,000 square feet. Kleinman has invested in the systems for his own facility to safely bring his employees back.

These new sanitizing services complement Corporate Essentials’ concept- to-finish break room design service. It starts with analyzing the office size, space and volume, and then working with the location to choose the best appliances, products and furniture to fill the break room in the best possible way to create an inviting space. 

What’s Cooking?

In spring 2018, Corporate Essentials acquired Brooklyn, NY-based full-service caterer Martin + Fitch and installed a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen to expand its offerings to provide a full range of premium fresh food solutions to appeal to every office. Martin + Fitch co-founder Maura Martin, who has cooked for four of the last five U.S. presidents and provided catering services for many of New York City’s rich and famous, came aboard as executive chef. 

Pre-pandemic, company culture was a growing focus among employers, and providing one or more free, on-site meals on a daily basis and even hosting weekly Friday happy hours had become a norm among companies competing for top talent.

“We did not make this move to simply add catering as another service we offer,” Kleinman remarked. “We did this to disrupt foodservice in the workplace. This unprecedented premium workplace food offering provides a new tool to companies who understand that by fueling their work- place culture they can further inspire their workforce.

”While remote working and social distancing have dealt a blow to its food business, Corporate Essentials has found new demand for individually curated meals to keep employees on-site and minimize their risk of exposure to the virus and has gotten creative to cater to new demands.

Practice What We Preach

Kleinman made a substantial investment in remodeling his own space in 2016 to practice what he preaches, complete with a pool table and lounge furniture and swanky vibe to foster collaboration and downtime.

“We replicate here what we can do for our customers,” he said. “It would be disingenuous to say to have a collaborative, positive environment that brings people together and rewards them if we’re not doing the same thing. Many operators’ facilities and break rooms send a message that they don’t care about their people. That’s important to think about especially when you have clients come in to demo machines. I’ve made my facility a showplace for what can be done.”

Kleinman held an open house last February to showcase his facility and invite customers and prospects to sample its gourmet fresh and locally sourced food and he hopes to host similar events in the future.

He also makes it a point to find ways to be personally connected with his employees by hosting summer barbecues and cooking up occasional breakfasts for teams of four in the wee morning hours.

“Drivers come in at 3 a.m., so I come in with an electric warmer and whip up a hot breakfast. Each team signs a spatula that we hang on the wall to commemorate it,” said Kleinman. “I take it as a chance to get input on what we could do better and to learn about them on a more personal level.” 

With an unprecedented number of employees still working remotely, Kleinman knows all too well the challenge of keeping that culture alive. One workaround he is pitching to his clients are “employee engagement kits,” delivered to their doors to help keep them connected and feeling appreciated.

Pandemic Pressures and Possibilities

Corporate Essentials has pioneered many products, technologies and service models in the workplace refreshments market over its two-plus decades, from kegged cold brew coffee and pantry service, to fresh fruit, dairy, and premium catering. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced the company to scale back on many offerings until the dust settles.

Corporate Essentials prides itself on its 98% fill rate and had $1 million in inventory that turned every two to three weeks prior to COVID-19. Months after the March shutdown, palettes of product that have sat in the warehouse have expired, and the company was forced to discard some, but proactively chose to donate a significant number of products to several different food pantries. 

“It’s always a balance to want to sell more variety and not have spoilage. When customers order, we have always had just about everything in stock,” he said. “But now there are issues in the supply chain because manufacturers are backed up and shut down because of the virus. Many are paring down their lines, revisiting if they really need to have 16 flavors of an item. There’s a shift. There’s nothing that hasn’t been touched in our lives and businesses from COVID-19 and we have to continually adapt in this evolving landscape.” 

Kleinman established fresh fruit as a pantry staple several years ago. A stickler for the details, he established best practices to get the longest life out of bananas, which only have a three-to-five-day shelf life, by storing them in a dedicated room at the optimum 58°F. to 64°F. “I don’t want to be second best,” he stated. But with reduced numbers of employees onsite, its short shelf life and preference for the sanitary nature of prepackaged items amid the pandemic, fruit for the time being is in far less demand.

Corporate Essentials supplied an average 400 gallons of milk to its customer base every couple of days prior to the COVID-19 and that demand has been drastically reduced.

Likewise, Corporate Essentials was among the first operators to provide bulk candy, cereal and snacks as a break room amenity, selling more than 10,000 bulk “pour containers” a month. He devised a stringent procedure for sanitizing and filling the containers in-house and adhering nutritional information labels to them.

Solid Foundation

As he navigates these challenging times, Kleinman draws from a decades-long leading role in office coffee service. His career began in 1985 at Corey Food Services, a division of Hershey Foods, which was later acquired by ARA Refreshment Services (now known as Aramark). He rose through the ranks to branch manager before leaving to run Coffee Service and More, a division of Wechsler Coffee. In 1996, Kleinman set out on his own to launch Corporate Essentials with partner OCS veterans Tim Morgan and Ivan Mann. 

While 2020’s challenges are unprecedented, his approach to tailoring solutions to meet ever-evolving needs remains the same.

“My team and I work closely to understand each client’s unique needs to help them navigate the new landscape to return to work safely and still show their employees how important they are to their businesses,” said Kleinman. “With some employees working remotely, finding ways to keep the culture they’ve worked so hard to build can be challenging, but we can help. Our services have resulted in better

employee recruitment, retention, and engagement for thousands of clients over 25 years. Our unique combination of products, equipment, variety of offerings and expertise are great reasons for any decision makers to consult with us.” 

Related

james beard foundation CorpEssentials 5af06cfe940c5
Management

Corporate Essentials Partners With James Beard Foundation

May 7, 2018
PARSIPPANY, New Jersey -- Corporate Essentials announced today an exclusive, year-long partnership with the James Beard Foundation to work with chefs from 10 distinct regions ...
Inc5000 CorporateEssentials 2017 59947853c8f5f
Coffee Service

Corporate Essentials Named To Inc. 5000 List Of America's Fastest-Growing Companies For Sixth Time

Aug. 16, 2017
PARSIPPANY, N.J. (August 16, 2017) -- Office refreshment provider, Corporate Essentials has been named to Inc. Magazine’s annual Inc. 5000 list of the United States’ fastest-growing...

ID 148232917 © Tang90246 | Dreamstime.com
Photo 88890253 | Acquisition © Encho Enevski | Dreamstime.com
Apex Restaurant & Market Solutions