By Marta Tkalcevic
Anyone who knows Mary Clark Bartlett knows just how generous she is—she’s as quick to pick up a check as she is to sponsor a fundraiser for a local nonprofit. And not only does Clark Bartlett support local nonprofits and help with fundraisers, but she also implements their underlying beliefs into her own business. As CEO of one of the top food-service companies headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has made sure that green practices, sustainability, seasonality, and the Slow Food movement are all imprinted on the DNA of Epicurean Group.
Mary Clark Bartlett is a true believer in sustainable business, one that continues to give back to the community that Epicurean Group is a part of. And that community is throughout the country, surpassing geographical borders. She believes that if all companies were a little more “conscious of their working people, community business, and natural resources,” America would be a super powerhouse again. Conscious capitalism is what we do when we give back to each contributing employee and to the communities that we do business in. It’s also respecting local business and natural resources, respecting business partners, supporting nonprofits to benefit citizens, and our municipal services.
Epicurean Group’s Industry-Leading Practices
Clark Bartlett started Epicurean Group in 2003, basing it on environmentally and socially responsible principles. At that time, Epicurean Group was years ahead of other contract food-service companies in its understanding of the financial, health, and environmental benefits of seasonal, local food. Epicurean Group provides excellent meals of fresh, honest, local, and seasonal foods. It also continues to support and to build up small local businesses and farms that otherwise would struggle to compete with large and often not-so-healthy conglomerates.
With COVID disrupting our lives and closing the world for months on end, eating healthy and responsibly sourced food has become more important than ever. Epicurean Group’s practices have now been implemented by every large service company, while Epicurean Group itself simply had to follow the practices that it had in place from its very beginnings. Offering clients healthy, seasonal, sustainable food, with a focus on the Slow Food International movement, has been the main differentiator for Epicurean Group. The company supports ancient farming methods, having brought ancient grains and “slow beans” to the Bay Area when they were scarce. Existing and new clients know and appreciate the values that Epicurean Group holds at its very core.
A Commitment to Being Green and Reducing Waste
Even in the midst of the pandemic, which has hit food service especially hard, Epicurean Group remained loyal to its sustainable, green practices. The company managed over a four-month process to become recertified as a Green Business, after its initial Green Business Certification in 2004. Green businesses adopt principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for their customers, employees, communities, and the planet. Green Business Certification is awarded to a business that demonstrates environmental stewardship that goes above and beyond the minimum required by local regulations.
“This means that we concisely work on sustainable resource conservation, including eliminating food waste and reducing landfill waste through recycling and composting,” says Carol Ann Ramos, head of internal marketing at Epicurean Group.
Other companies have taken notice and are changing their own practices to compete. They’re copying programs that Epicurean Group follows, like California State University’s Waste Not Program and the Fair Trade Campaigns movement. They’re also copying Epicurean Group’s own programs, like “Go Greener!” and the LiveWell healthful eating regimen. “Prospective clients say that competitors are beginning to claim that they are sustainable too,” Clark Bartlett says. “It’s fulfilling to know that others are following our lead and that we’re truly having an impact on changing the country’s food system and industry.”
Zero Food Waste, another element of the Waste Not Program, focuses on removing all food from the waste stream. By eliminating food waste from the 39,200 meals that its cafés serve each day, Epicurean Group not only keeps organic waste out of the landfill, but it also reduces methane production earlier in the food chain. “All Epicurean Group chefs are trained to eliminate food waste through proper planning and correct portion size,” says Rey Hernandez, Epicurean Group senior VP and co-founder. Hernandez oversees the company’s extensive chef education program that’s managed by Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef Phil Wright. “If for any reason the chefs end up with more food than they need, they donate it to food recovery programs for needy individuals in our communities,” Wright says.
The company’s Meatless Mondays program also lowers food’s impact on the environment. In the past few years, Epicurean Group cafés have served approximately 1.5 million Meatless Mondays meals, saving an estimated 200 million gallons of water and 6,000 tons of carbon. “We’re also creating innovative culinary programs, such as our ‘Ancient Grains and Slow Beans’ programs,” says Clark Bartlett. “That way, our customers have delicious alternatives to meat proteins.” She explains that both programs were inspired by her experience at the Slow Food International global conference in Torino, Italy.
A Proud Supporter of Local Business
Throughout the pandemic, Epicurean Group has been extremely proud to be a supporter of small and local businesses. The company’s purchasing practices focus on products that encourage the growth of organic farms and ranches, sustainable fisheries, and artisanal producers. At its more than 60 facilities across Northern California, Colorado, Minnesota, and the Northwest, Epicurean Group purchases local, in-season fruit and vegetables, according to the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists. Those purchases include approximately 456 tons of local, seasonal fruit and vegetables annually, with a focus on farms within a 150-mile radius from each facility. All the facilities serve grass-fed rather than feedlot or pink-slime ground beef, and all the seafood is purchased following the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guidelines.
Continuing to Lead by Example
Epicurean Group is a business member of the Slow Food organization and supports its local education and advocacy efforts. CEO Clark Bartlett also served as a U.S. delegate to Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Slow Food’s biennial conference held in Torino, Italy, and will serve again in 2022. In addition, she is on the board of directors of Slow Food South Bay.
“We hope that our progressive programs, practices, and principles will continue to grow, inspiring and encouraging everyone to work to create positive change in America’s food system. Our goal is to bring eaters back to the table, and connect them to the natural, traditional seasonal cycle of food and its production,” says Clark Bartlett. “We are confident that, together, we can build a new and environmentally sustainable food system.”