It’s been a gigantic year and half for the VFC Deli. These departments (four in all: deli, bakery, meat and cheese) have gone through incredible growth and change. Through this time of transition, the deli departments have continued to grow in sales and produce more product from scratch to meet the ever growing needs of our owners and customers.
Fresh and prepared foods are the fastest growing sectors in the cooperative grocery world, which exacerbate the challenges of keeping up with training and production. Working through these trials takes time, commitment and perseverance to come to fruition. With a solid team, improved resources, added training and a shared vision for the future, the VFC Deli is reinventing themselves.
A Solid Team
While turnover is inevitable in any business, the food and beverage industry has the highest rate in the United States. The VFC Deli is not immune to this statistic, but under the leadership of Waleed Mahmoud, we’ve built a core group of committed staff that continue to grow the department and work through the everyday challenges of running the business, all the while anticipating the needs of the future. Our bakery, prepared foods, meat and cheese staff members, (21 in total), work in tight quarters to bring you your favorite foods; wonderful scones, delightful hot bar, fresh meats and beautifully aged cheeses. It’s these amazing individuals, working together to bring you the freshest food, that make our deli something special.
To offer another layer of leadership and support, the deli added the instrumental role of an Assistant Deli Manager, which has been filled by Jamie Cermak. We are so pleased to have Jamie’s experience and oversight for the coffee bar, sandwich bar and retail floor. Along with a delightful group of dedicated employees, Jamie and his team are working hard to bring consistency and a smile to each and every customer that steps up to their counter.
During the recent addition of our secondary receiving bay/back stock, freezer and cooler, the deli underwent its own remodel to assist in supporting their growth. Behind the scenes, we took an unorthodox approach to our confined space by moving our staff breakroom offsite to increase space for dry-goods-storage and offices, thus freeing up valuable square footage in the kitchen for three additional prep stations.
We didn’t’ stop there. The final touches are still being implemented, but the coffee bar has a fresh new look along with new equipment to accommodate the growing demand for freshly prepared sandwiches and coffee. We upgraded our Panini press to a Merry Chef Oven to allow for faster cooking and an expanded menu. We also added a double coffee brewer to meet the needs of our coffee connoisseurs and increase production efficiency of local, organic and P6 coffees.
While lots of restaurants and food service establishments purchase food that comes pre-portioned, packaged and preserved to ensure freshness, our deli is producing radically different food that is prepared from whole foods and fresh produce. Throughout the year, we source from more than 140 local producers that serve our Co-op. We strive to bring you the best tasting prepared foods, and by refining our existing space, we are finding new and innovative ways to continue bringing you this high quality food.
Old systems don’t work with new paradigms. With improved resources, the deli staff has learned an entirely new way of doing business. Everything – from when we start our mornings, how we plan and prepare our hot bar, to how we purchase – has changed. And with these changes comes training. Our goal is for a seamless transition between old systems and new, but inevitably things don’t go as planned. Our deli staff continually show us that with dedication and perseverance any challenge can be met with positive results.
At the VFC we know that sufficient training and clear expectations are at the foundation for a successful business. That’s why training is on-going. We are always looking for opportunities to enhance what we do and learn new ways of doing things. We value what we don’t know so that we can find new ways to bring our customers even better food, even better service and our trademark “VFC Experience” that we yearn to give each and every person that sets foot in store… and I mean everyone!
It all starts with a vision. We asked our owners, staff and community through a variety of different avenues what their vision is for the future of the VFC. We heard you say that the heart of the Viroqua Food Cooperative is what you experience when you shop here and that our primary focus should be on expanding our core retail services. Across the country, co-ops are expanding to offer more for their shoppers. We consistently see a large focus on fresh and prepared foods with expanded meat, cheese and deli/bakery. This vision for the future of our own deli is why reinventing ourselves is so important. Creating a solid foundation is critical in order to prepare for these coming changes.
With a solid team, improved resources, excellent training and aligning ourselves with a common vision for the future of the VFC, we are setting the stage for something great! I am so proud of the VFC Deli Team and how far they have come! Go Co-op!