Cultivating Innovation in Dining Services Through Exploration

At Fresh Ideas, we approach innovation differently. Not only are we breaking through boundaries with our food, but also with employee engagement. In March, sixteen of our company’s directors and chefs embarked on the first ever Fresh Ideas Innovation Trip to Chicago. The trip was created by our Chief Operations Officer, Kris Lensmeyer, to provoke new ways of thinking through experiencing the latest food industry trends, different cuisines and cutting-edge sustainability efforts. The trip was comprehensive in scope, including chef demonstrations, team building, sight-seeing and of course, lots of eating!

After a day of travel, we caught dinner at an off-the-wall ping pong dining concept called, SPiN. Their ping-pong pro boosted our confidence at the tables with some tips. The second day of the trip was spent learning more about the food industry with our friends at US Foods. After our tour, we were treated to presentations on food trends and product development from industry experts. The afternoon was full of team building activities, cooking, and concept creation with Master Chef Ron DeSantis.

Day three started with a visit to Plant Chicago where their team is developing innovative methods for sustainable food production, energy conservation, and material reuse. The plant’s Executive Director, Jonathan Pereira, gave us a comprehensive tour which included their aquaponics and composting operations. After our visit, we made our way downtown to Latinicity, an impressive food hall with Latin-inspired eateries and marketplace. There we were surprised with a Q&A session with Executive Chef, Marco Flores. We spent the rest of the afternoon in an informative session at Feeding America, learning how we can help combat food insecurity in our communities. The evening ended at Imperial Lamian with a family-style dinner full of authentic and artisanal Chinese cuisine. We were lucky enough to experience a live noodle demonstration from a master noodle maker!

The fourth and final day of the Innovation Trip included a visit to a stockyard where we were able to see how meat was cut, processed and packaged. A short bus ride took us to see how spices are imported, ground and prepared for distribution at Gourmet Spice Company. We visited the Revival Food Hall next where our directors and chefs were challenged to create their own dining concept and plan how they would execute from a culinary, marketing, and operational standpoint. Our final stop of the day was a guided tour through Eataly, a lively Italian marketplace that features an array of eateries.

Our time in Chicago was as much about being exposed to other ideas, as it was about spending time with our colleagues and finding inspiration with them. Fresh Ideas is continuously cultivating innovators, but as employees of a fast-growing dining service company, we’re spread out across the Midwest. The trip allowed us to come together in the city and grow with our peers. Check out the video below to hear our director and chef’s reflections on our first Innovation Trip!