Compass Group, North American Division, is part of Compass Group PLC, which has $15 billion in annual revenues and is the world's largest food service company. Compass Group PLC is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is the 17th largest employer in the world with a total of 400,000 employees. Compass Group, North American Division, whose Chief Executive is Gary Green, operates primarily in the US and Canada, had revenues of over $5 billion in 2002, and employs 116,000.
Not too shabby for a company many Charlotteans don't even know is headquartered here. Part of this is by company design: Cheryl Webster, Vice President of Communications, says the company "has kept a low profile."
While most people generally assume that having the J&W culinary school, which, by the way, is only one of their three college divisions, in Charlotte will result in more restaurants here, the truth is that most of the J&W culinary students will end up employed outside of restaurants. In all the J&W culinary programs' graduating classes of 2002 (90 percent reported their subsequent employment), only 28 percent of the graduates were working in restaurants. The rest were working in the extraordinarily vast domain of food service. One part of this is contract food service.
"Hospitality and food service represents a 90 billion dollar opportunity," says Kurt Kimball, executive vice president of sales for Compass Group, North American Division. "Compass Group is the largest food service company in the world. We run the gamut from vending, with Canteen Vending Services, to fine dining restaurants such as the Sea Grill and Brasserie in New York and Patina in Los Angeles."
Compass Group, North American Division, also has an interest in the Levy Restaurants, which owns Charlotte's Bistro 100. And Compass was one of the major sponsors of the Charlotte Shout 2002 culinary events.
A visit to Compass Group, North American Division headquarters offers a glimpse into the history of the company. Beside the reception area is a company museum. On display are a cigarette vending machine which sold 5 and 10 cent packs; vending boxes from the 1930s, which had only one product per box and needed an attendant on hand to refill the boxes; and a portrait of Mama Leone from the now closed New York landmark restaurant. Plus there's a depression era salesperson's candy box containing such candy bars as Forever Yours, Two Bits, Snickers, and Milky Way.
You are likely to bump into a Compass Group company at a sporting event, a school cafeteria, a hospital or a prison. They provide food services at the US Tennis Open, Discovery Place, the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Browns' stadium, and a restaurant in Kennedy Airport. They also own one of the largest Krispy Kreme franchises with a territory that spans the New York metro and northern New Jersey area. Compass Group was the main food supplier at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, supplying 90 percent of all foodservice.
Kimball notes, "We do corporate cafeterias, sports and entertainment facilities, such as the Kentucky Derby and NASCAR. We have a contract with Bruton Smith at the Speedway. During the seven days of World Youth Day in Canada, we fed 500,000 people per day, including the Pope."
"Our Morrison Management Specialists," he continues, "serves the health care industry. We also provide food services to long term care facilities and to higher education. K through 12 is our least contracted market, but that's changing as more and more large school districts contract out. We recently got the Winston-Salem school district and the Chicago school district represents $60 million a year."
Compass has stayed on top of America's changing diet. Chartwells, one of Compass Group's companies that provide food services to higher education facilities, recently opened their first Terra Ve Cafe, dedicated to vegetarians and vegans, at Purchase College in New York.
Since Compass employs a large number of chefs, sous chefs, and line cooks, they are obviously looking forward to having Johnson & Wales in Charlotte. After all, Kimball noted, "You have got to serve great food each day...The good news about Johnson & Wales moving to Charlotte is we will get the first shot at students. There will be a synergy of proximity. We have businesses the students can intern in -- like Bistro 100. For us having J&W here will give us the ability to interface with the top culinarians in the world and to see Charlotte grow in the restaurant business."
Compass has also worked closely with other culinary schools. Nick Valenti, president of Compass Group operating company Restaurant Associates, is on the board of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
In addition to culinary schools, Compass has formed relationships with other area universities. Since coming to Charlotte, Compass has developed an ongoing internship program with the UNCC Accounting and IT departments and has subsequently offered permanent employment to several graduates of this program.
Kimball says, "Charleston has become a fairly well known restaurant town. That will also happen here in Charlotte. We may look back in five or 10 years and see just how far Charlotte, Compass, and Johnson & Wales have come."