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Bringing Military Experience to the Table

Community |  11.11.2021

We proudly employ thousands of active service members, veterans, and family members. With guidance from Aramark Salute, our employee resource group (ERG) for military-affiliated talent, we look to cultivate a workforce of capable leaders, build a diverse and inclusive workplace, and drive even greater value in the marketplace.

“Being in the military, or supporting a loved one in the armed forces, gives you a head start on learning to face and overcome challenges,” says U.S. Navy veteran Prentiss Hall, President of LifeWorks Restaurant Group and Executive Chair of Aramark Salute. “We are a company that thrives on that kind of spirit.”

Our Chef Spotlight series returns this month to highlight the military community’s many contributions to the nation and to our business.

Salute to Service

As an ERG, Aramark Salute gives voice to and promotes inclusion among employees who come from military backgrounds. This Veterans Day, we hosted a virtual “fireside chat” featuring a retired U.S. Army Captain who earned the prestigious Medal of Honor while serving in Afghanistan. It’s one of several moments of significance throughout the year.

“Flag Day and Independence Day are also times to show appreciation for the military community,” points out Jennifer Goodman, Military Initiatives Program Manager and Salute Co-Chair. “And for National Military Appreciation Month in May, we have the chance to honor current service members, their spouses and children, as well as those we have lost in the line of duty.”

Taking things one step further, Salute gives back to military families in the local communities where we live and work. In 2021, we launched a program with the nonprofit American Corporate Partnership to pair veterans with Aramark mentors (55 to date). And this year’s Aramark Building Community Day found the Salute team, led by Brooks, assembling back-to-school supply kits and writing thank-you cards for military families across the country.

“In the armed forces, you’re taught to think about others before yourself. That translates into high-speed customer service,” explains Salute member Kenny Brooks, Vice President, Service Execution.

Such initiatives are often conducted alongside other Aramark ERGs—which is fitting, as Salute members represent a diverse community themselves. “Members of the military community know how to talk to just about anybody,” says Goodman, a military spouse herself. “Finding those commonalities gives us an important foundation to further explore that intersectionality.”

Meet a Few of Our Chefs

Our ongoing Chef Spotlight series highlights the immense culinary talent and passion found in our kitchens. To coincide with Veterans Day, we’re sharing the stories of several Salute members and how their military experience enriches their work to this day.

“These stories embody the themes of courage, commitment, and perseverance,” shares Brooks, an Army veteran. “It’s awesome to see their pride in what they have learned from being connected to the military—and how they represent that in cooking delicious food.”

Chef Maynard: Invaluable Life Lessons

Growing up in San Francisco, Maynard Oestreich’s family would drive miles into the country to buy from one particular fruit stand, bakery, or hen house. This U.S. Navy veteran cut his teeth by learning to cook family favorites under the guidance of his grandmother. At age 15, he hosted his first Thanksgiving dinner—and a chef was born. 

Over the course of his culinary career, Chef Maynard has supplied food and wine pairings to more than 100 wineries and contributed to half a dozen cookbooks. Today, he is an Executive Chef with Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. His sophisticated Caprese Chicken has the distinction of being the most popular dish he has ever created.

Tonya: Unwavering Support

Tonya Lee’s husband, an Army National Guardsman, deployed to Iraq two weeks after they married. She describes those 15 months—during which she worked full time and studied for her master’s degree, while praying Jerry would return home safely—as one of the hardest times of her life. As a proud military wife, she emphasizes the many ways people can show appreciation for those in uniform, from flying the American flag to consoling family members during deployment. 

An Aramark employee for more than 20 years, Tonya also belongs to EMPOWER, our ERG working to accelerate the advancement of female leaders. While her role as a Food Service Director at Baylor University doesn’t put her squarely in Aramark kitchens, she loves to try new foods and prepare homecooked meals for family and friends. Her Sweet Heat Foil Packets—each filled with vegetables, potatoes, and a hamburger patty—are a fun, flexible crowd-pleaser.

Chef Robert: A Bridge to Civilian Life

Robert Runstrom started his culinary career as a U.S. Army Food Specialist and trained to cook in a variety of conditions and environments. After 17 years of service, he wondered what his next step would be. That journey eventually led him to Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, where he can further his culinary training while continuing to serve his country and support men and women in uniform.

There was a time when Chef Robert wasn’t working for professional kitchens—but he still took comfort of preparing beautiful food that evoked family memories. For Chef Spotlight, he shared his family’s beloved Caprese Beef Meatloaf.

Mission-Minded Service

As Executive Chair of Salute, Hall’s military roots run deep: His dad served as a Marine in the WWll Pacific Theater, and one of his sons is in the Navy currently. “November is a time to recognize those who have lived a life of service and made freedom possible for the rest of us,” Hall says.

We hope military service members, veterans, and their family members will continue to build satisfying (often second) careers in the culinary arts and related fields. Once they join our team, we pledge to celebrate each person’s background and the value it brings to our enterprise. Salute and other ERGs are a driving force behind that commitment.

“When people have that sense of belonging and are cherished for their skills, that leads to excellence and innovation,” adds Brooks. “We’re all brothers and sisters, looking to achieve the same outcome.”