Food for Thought has operated in the Chicago area since 1983—its first client was the Chicago Botanical Gardens. For many of the early years, the catering side of the company dominated, but it had some contract accounts from the very beginning. Its business picked up speed in the 90s and had its ups and downs in the dot-com recession. In the last several years, it has focused on stabilization and now has almost doubled in size since 2008, to $24 million.
“About half comes from catering and half from the management side, but contract is growing faster at this point,” says President/CEO Nancy Sharp. “We are in the business of developing long term relationships and our approach is to provide a high touch response to client needs.” Its client mix is diverse, ranging from traditional segments like B&I and colleges to golf courses and office buildings with public café space.
Food for Thought is one of the largest catering companies in its region, “and our focus on food is the big driver there,” says Sharp. “We are known as a culinary leader and that helps us on the contract side.” About 70 percent of its contracts are fee-based, but “we have sought to be very creative in terms of how these are structured,” says Sharp.
“We want clients who respect foodservice as an important amenity in their companies,” she adds. “This suffers in recessions, but we look for clients who see that kind of value.”
The company maintains several commissaries which allow it to take on business where kitchens are not available. Other competitive advantages: “we see client opportunities larger companies wouldn’t touch because they don’t fit their scale models, but which are opportunities for us. We are smaller, nimbler, and the home town team. We are building the company one client at a time.”