Driving a new model of workplace dining

If you have spent any time in Burlington, VT, you’ve probably heard of The company provides web development services for the auto industry and employs over 800 people in the Burlington area. As a significant local employer, they are known for the workplace benefits they offer their employees, such as a wellness program, an in-house gym, social events for employees, and on-site eateries. I’d heard about the quality local and healthy food being served at those eateries, so I asked for a tour to learn about what they’re up to. After all, who would expect that people who help sell cars would be so passionate about good food?

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During my visit, I met with Brian Tomlinson, the Senior Café Service Manager. As we walked through the open-floor-plan office, he described how’s approach to food makes it unique among companies. First of all, the company subsidizes the food operation, which means that the high quality food served in its two cafés is comparatively inexpensive. A local grass-fed beef burger on a locally-baked roll sells for about $9 (the same meal would be at least $15 at a downtown Burlington restaurant).

Everything served in the cafés is made from scratch, including their sauces, salad dressings, and ketchup. They even make their own sauerkraut and kimchi, which are available every day. The baked goods (muffins, cookies, and other desserts) are made on site as well. The only exception is bread, which is sourced locally: croissants from O Bread Bakery in Shelburne, bread from Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, and buns from August First Bakery in Burlington.

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The two on-site cafés serve 450-500 meals daily, source only pastured animal proteins. Local farmers deliver whole animals directly to the office, the kitchen staff butchers the meat, and nothing goes to waste: they cook the organ meats, the bones are used for stock, and the fat is rendered for deep frying (they also fry in palm shortening for the vegetarians on staff). They use 16-18 cows a year, from Back Beyond Farm in Tunbridge, and approximately 2 pigs a month, from Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho Center. They also source chickens and eggs from Jericho Settlers and Savage Gardens in North Hero.

Considering food is not central to the company’s mission, I wondered what the motivation was behind all this effort. Brian explained that one of the founders, Mark Bonfigli, instilled the cafés’ health and environmental values from the very beginning. The menus are influenced heavily (though not exclusively) by the Weston A. Price diet, which emphasizes pastured meats, whole grains, and fermented foods. In fact, the whole kitchen team attended a Price conference to learn about the nutritional philosophy.

So what’s on the menu? The daily breakfast menu comprises scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, oatmeal, yogurt, and a granola bar. Rotating daily specials include omelets, breakfast burritos, quiche, pancakes, French toast, croissant breakfast sandwiches, huevos rancheros, and sausage and biscuits with gravy. Did I mention that’s just breakfast?

The lunch menu at the Dot Calm Café (cute, right?) changes every day, but there are always a starch and veggie of the day, and a variety of meat and vegan soups. Some rotating menu standards include tacos, burgers, Mediterranean, and Chinese. Every Friday is pizza day. Other recent offerings include vegan egg rolls, summer squash risotto with lemon and parmesian, baked cod with tomatoes and herbs, cashew lentil burgers, and almond scallion rice. Is your mouth watering yet?

IMG_0207 (2)I visited on taco day and the smells wafting from the trays behind the counter had me wishing I could sneak in for lunch whenever they are on the menu. Apparently the employees like the offerings too—over the course of a week, about 75% of the employees eat at least one meal in the cafés.

How does one becomes a foodservice manager at a company like Brian has been cooking at eateries since he was a teenager, when he worked in restaurants in his hometown. Because he loves to travel, he decided the mobile aspect of cooking was worth making it his career (anywhere you go, people eat at restaurants). So he attended culinary school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and spent the next several years traveling and working at hotels, restaurants, and resorts in Utah, the San Juan Islands, and Maui. In 2004, he and his girlfriend decided to relocate to Vermont to be closer to family on the East Coast and Brian didn’t waste any time moving up the chain of command in local establishments. After a few years at the Topnotch resort in Stowe, he became the executive chef at the Trapp Family Lodge. Considering his love for skiing, it seemed like a great fit.

But after so many years in the hospitality industry, Brian was tiring of the hours, which often required working nights and weekends. So when a friend of his left the café manager position at in 2012, Brian applied and was offered the job. He recognizes that it’s rare to find a day job in a kitchen, and he appreciates the opportunity to serve quality food and still have working hours that give him time for family life. The same appears to be true for his staff. He feels lucky he’s been able to retain qualified, skilled café staff, which he attributes to the kind of food they are serving and the working hours. During his 2.5 years at, he’s only had to replace one cook.

The biggest challenge Brian has faced has been buying more local food. Most farms only deliver one day a week, and the kitchen’s cooler is not big enough to hold a week’s worth of food, so they need daily deliveries. As a result, they order most of their local produce through Black River Produce, as well as the farms they buy their meats from.

Brian is proud of the way they cook at, and it’s evident in the way he talks about their food.’s approach to employee wellness, cuisine, and the environment make it clear that a company doesn’t need to have sustainability in its business plan to make space for it in its mission. If they ever decide to open a public café, I’ll be getting in line to sample their fare.

Posted in: Economic, Environmental, Health, Social.