Steve Cerullo, Foodservice Director, Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.
Ask Steve Cerullo what a typical day is like for him and his answer is, “There is no typical day in foodservice.”
Ten years ago, Cerullo gave up what might be a dream to most people. He sold his own business, a restaurant and golf course in central Pennsylvania, and went to work for Geisinger Health System as a food production manager at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.
Now he’s foodservice director, overseeing production of 1,000 patient meals a day in the 440-bed hospital, 60-bed children’s hospital and nine retail operations on the main campus that generate $5 million in annual sales. If that’s not enough, he’s also responsible for foodservice in two other hospitals in the system, a 100-bed facility in Bloomsburg and a 60-bed hospital in Coal Township. But wait, there’s also the $1 million in catering his department handles annually.
As foodservice director, Cerullo has implemented a lot of changes, such as nutrition guidelines, a greatly expanded number of healthy selections, innovations like fresh sushi five days a week and a breakfast yogurt bar as well as the opening of new retail outlets. Along the way, he’s had to fight some reluctance to the changes.
“Some of the doctors and staff didn’t want outsiders coming in to our facilities to eat,” he says. “But we had so many people, like the families of kids in the children’s hospital, who were ordering in pizza and Chinese because they didn’t have any other choice. Now they come to us. With the expansion, a lot of departments moved off campus, but people still eat here because we’re priced competitively and we have really good food.”
He loves the job because the days aren’t typical, but also because it affords him the time (if you can believe it) to pursue outside interests, such as coaching his son’s football team. Cerullo’s enthusiasm for what he does is infectious and evident on a daily basis.
“We’ve tripled our retail business in the past five years,” he says, “but once we got some of the newer facilities up and running smoothly a few years ago, the staff grew a little complacent. You have to give them challenges, and that’s what I try to do—otherwise they get bored. When we’re growing and trying new things, people get excited.”
The most recent challenge was switching from a cook-chill production system to room-service patient feeding. The $9 million project involved building a room-service patient feeding production line and a new kitchen and that also services the retail operations.
“I’d overseen retail projects here and new restaurant operations at Marriott when I worked there,” Cerullo says, “but nothing like this. This has been my biggest accomplishment so far and involved everything from picking out the tile on the floor to laying out the equipment.”
Everyone in the organization, from top management to the foodservice staff, has embraced the project, which opened in December 2012. “We had room-service plans on the board for several years, and to get the administration’s financial backing is real evidence of how supportive of the department they’ve been.”
To get the staff ready, Cerullo brought equipment suppliers in to provide training on new types of equipment. And the new kitchen’s design utilized a lot of equipment the staff already used. For example, the production kitchen had seven combi ovens; the new room-service/retail kitchen added 10 more.
Geisinger Health System also owns a small hotel near the entrance to the main campus, and Cerullo was able to send cooks to the hotel to train in a la carte cooking well in advance of the switch. Next up, a new production kitchen slated for 2016.
The 190 full-time staff members thrive on challenges, a fact that is evident in the department’s low turnover rate. One employee recently celebrated 45 years with Geisinger.
“It’s a great crew,” Cerullo says. “There are about 11,000 total employees on campus, and that’s in a town with a population of 5,000. We pull employees from 30 and 40 miles away. At today’s gas prices, they have to love their jobs to drive that far to work each day.”