Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the
May 2, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Spicing Up the Corporate Lunch Room
Holly Trump and Luigi DiMeglio refuel hundreds of area
office workers every day. They are co-owners of Gallery Cafe, a
food service business that manages three corporate cafeterias and
caters office events. Up ahead of the of the roosters, they huddle
with their managers at 5:45 a.m. in the dining room of 107 College
Road East. Rising after a short meeting, the day’s game plan fixed,
they run non-stop until late afternoon ordering fish, making soup,
teaching employees how to saute, re-composing salad bars, taking care
of spills, fielding last minute entreaties for sandwich deliveries
to nearby offices, and ringing up lines of hungry desk jockeys.
Customers walking into the cafeterias from their cubicles looking
for a mid-day energy boost often tell one of the pair how tired they
are. "They say they’re having a hard day," Trump says.
if they could last six hours down here with me!" Not likely. Even
with the day’s rush past, Trump perches on the edge of her chair,
jumping up every few minutes to take calls from office managers with
meeting menus and spring picnics on their minds, and running back
to the kitchen to discuss concerns with employees as they check in
on their way home.
She is the high-energy half of the culinary duo, dramatically ripping
up junk mail when a check long-promised by a corporate catering client
does not appear with the day’s delivery, and speaking passionately
of how much she enjoys taking raw hires and turning them into chefs.
DiMeglio is a little more low voltage. Less involved in cooking and
training new employees — "I’m not as patient as I used to
be." — he has to make his time and energy stretch to cover
his restaurants, Valentino’s and Nicky D’s in Forrestal Village, as
well as the corporate cafeterias.
The two met through a mutual friend, and formed their partnership
in 1997. "Talk about soul mates," says Trump of the business
union. "A gift from heaven." DiMeglio had just gotten into
the corporate cafeteria business, opening Gallery Cafe for National
Business Parks, the company that manages College Road East office
buildings. His first manager did not work out. "He was a 6/10
man," DiMeglio says. Cans of food for institutional use hold 10
ounces each and come six to a case, and the guy built his cuisine
around opening them. "He lasted a month," DiMeglio says. He
then hired Trump. He says he made her an equal partner less than a
year later because "She’s very aggressive." Because of Trump,
he says, he was able to expand to other locations. Taking her on as
a full partner, he says, "was only fair."
Gallery Cafe also manages the corporate cafeterias at 100 College
Road West, the new building on Route 1 just south of Forrestal
and at 206 Carnegie Center, Covance’s headquarters. Asked whether
they want to take on any more cafeterias, DiMeglio quickly says,
it. We’re tapped." But just as quickly, Trump says, "We’d
like to do an entire park." Yes, DiMeglio agrees, for the
to manage all the corporate eateries within an office park, they would
stretch. In fact, he says, they had been set to handle the dining
rooms at the facility RCN had hoped to build.
Keeping their operation manageable is a key concern, though. They
have turned down offers to manage cafeterias in other parts of the
state. Just recently, Trump says, Firmenich expressed interest in
having them manage an eatery in Newark. Out of the question, she and
her partner say. They need to keep their cafeterias close to one
and can not add too many without losing control over the quality of
the food and of the service.
DiMeglio and Trump have been preparing and serving food
all of their adult lives. DiMeglio is from a Princeton restaurant
family. He opened Victor’s, a pizzeria and Italian restaurant on
Street across the street from the university, with his twin brother
Vinnie and an uncle in 1976. He opened Vesuvio’s, also on Nassau
in the site now occupied by Blue Point Grill, in 1981. Both
closed, in part because of soaring rents in downtown Princeton, and
Vinnie left the restaurant business to start Caliper Farms
a Montgomery-based business, with another brother, Angelo. DiMeglio
stayed in the business, but began a move toward catering to the
crowd when he opened Valentino’s Pizzeria-Trattoria, one of the first
restaurants in Forrestal Village, a mixed use office/retail complex
that draws a big lunch crowd from surrounding office parks.
DiMeglio attended Princeton High School and lives in Washington
with his wife, Susan, a speech therapist, and their three sons, Frank,
a 14-year-old who attends Lawrence High, and Vincent and Anthony,
students at the Pond Road Middle School.
Trump, who is not related to Donald as far as she knows, is from an
entrepreneurial family with a flare for cooking. She swears by her
great grandmother’s rice pudding and stuffing recipes, and says her
mother, Dolores, is "an awesome baker." Her late father,
owned the Trump Roofing Company in Hopewell, and her mother helped
out in the business. Her sister, Robin, teaches special education
in Montgomery, and her brother, Peter, just returned to the area from
Los Angeles and opened Metro Grill, an 80-seat casual dining spot
on Scotch Road in Ewing.
Trump started and ran Main Street, a Yardley restaurant, and has been
a chef at both the Logan Inn in New Hope and the Carversville Inn
in Carversville, Pennsylvania. She has been a food service manager
at both the College of New Jersey and the Pennington School, and has
held executive positions with food service giant Sodexho Marriott.
Trump earned a bachelor’s degree in administration from Trenton State
College (Class of 1986) and a certificate in food and beverage
from Mercer County College. She also holds a number of certificates
from the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York.
Trump owns Party by Design, a Ewing-based catering company. She lives
in Ewing with her housemate, Ann Degennaro, director of wellness at
the College of New Jersey, whom she describes as "the company
therapist," a help with everything from stress management to
employees talks on avoiding drug use.
For both Trump and DiMeglio, the dining room of Gallery Cafe’s first
cafeteria, at 107 College Road East, is ground zero, where they have
their first cup of coffee in the morning, and close out the books
at the end of the day. It is an attractive green and mauve space
from a zig-zagging food service line by a curving wall with a jaunty
green stripe. Its tiny bud vases — each holding one white and
one violet flower — and its prints of Paris street cafes say
as much as "cafeteria." And, in fact, DiMeglio says,
is a dirty word." Undeniably, this is mass feeding. Three hundred
souls pass through for lunch, the vast majority of them coming in
two great blasts — at noon and at 2 p.m. But DiMeglio stresses
that theirs is not fast food.
Trump writes up a new menu every morning, not making final decisions
until she takes the day’s temperature — perhaps leaning toward
comfort food on an unseasonably cool spring day, or a fruit soup as
a fitting accompaniment to the buds opening outside. Customers, the
vast majority of whom show up day after day, "know how to
DiMeglio says, "and if they don’t, we teach them." The duo
steer their office-bound clientele toward eating their main meal at
noon, a habit they say many have adopted. Others eat a light lunch,
but ask to have another meal packed up to be taken home for dinner.
In all of their cafeterias, there is a conscious effort to stretch
diners’ palates. Jerry Yusko has been managing Gallery Cafe’s
in the Covance building for three years. He watched the same customers
walk in and go for the same spot at the sandwich counter day after
day. Now he goes up to the tradition-bound and points out inviting
salads and entrees, urging them to try something different.
afraid," he says of the culinary timid. "They think if they
don’t like something, they’ll be stuck with it." Not so, he
his customers. If the taste of vegetarian roasted vidalia and parmesan
soup offends or pan seared salmon with saffron tomato and green onion
butter is just too alien, he will be glad to take it back and produce
a nice tuna sandwich.
"Everything we do is different," Trump says. "There is
no such thing as chicken salad. It’s always chicken salad with peach
chutney, or with roasted peppers, or with Dijon mustard and walnuts.
It’s not chicken noodle soup, it’s West Tisbury clam chowder."
Of her cuisine, she says, "It’s all weird." At first, the
lunchtime crowd held back, seeking safety at the sandwich station.
Things have changed in six years. "After they get over the fear,
they like to experiment," she says.
At its three locations, Gallery Cafe serves up
soup, salad, and dessert to nearly 1,000 people a day. While the
chefs strive for variety, they recognize their customers’ favorites.
"They like chicken," DiMeglio says. "They can’t get enough
of chicken, any which way you like it." But there is very little
demand for beef. Nothing to do with mad cow disease, he says, but
rather a reflection of what he describes as a "high end"
a group that is "conscious of what they eat," and perceives
red meat to be less healthy than other foods. Pasta is a lunchtime
favorite, as are salads, and vegetarian dishes continue to gain in
As for when office workers are most likely to drop by, as opposed
to running out to a restaurant, Trump says it’s hard to fix a pattern.
Weather plays a part too. Traffic is definitely up, especially at
the Covance cafeteria, when it rains. But the first warm days of
bring extra customers too. "I see them coming," Trump says.
"When it’s nice out, we get people walking over from other
The majority of the customers at all three of Gallery Cafe’s
come from the buildings in which they are located. Most of the rest
stroll over from nearby buildings. The public is welcome at 107
Road East and at 100 College Road West, but not at the Covance
While Gallery Cafe is happy to serve anyone, the company does not
court outside business. "We don’t advertise," DiMeglio says.
"We’re here to serve the people in the park. As long as we serve
them, we don’t need to reach out."
Employers subsidize lunch for their workers at the Gallery Cafe
DiMeglio and Trump subtract 20 percent from each employee’s check
and send bills to employers at the end of the week. They say the
and the amount of the discount, are standard throughout the area,
although they say some companies do maintain cafeterias where their
employees incur no charges at all.
The subsidy is good for Gallery Cafe’s business, and for the employers
too. "If the companies subsize, they know all their employees
will come in," DiMeglio says. This keeps workers close to their
desks. DiMeglio says some customers are in and out in minutes,
their lunch back to the office. Others linger, chatting with friends.
In either case, a trip to an on-site cafeteria takes a fraction of
the time it would take to drive to a restaurant, find parking, be
served, and make it back to work. For the cafeterias, DiMeglio says
subsidies ensure a steady supply of repeat customers.
Even with the subsidies, lunch at Gallery Cafe’s cafeterias is not
cheap. Sandwiches, including wraps and pannini, are $4.95, or $2.95
for half a sandwich. Sauted pasta dishes are $4.35; special pasta,
$4.95. Entrees, perhaps corn meal crusted pork medallions or crab
cakes with Louisiana remoulade, are $6.95. Add a homemade cookie and
a bottle of juice and "it’s $10 at the register," says
Customers rarely balk, he says, and when they do, he reminds them
that everything is fresh.
"When leaf lettuce is $32 a case, I don’t have a choice,"
Trump says. "When broccoli is $24 a case, I have to buy it.
always change. They skyrocket. I’ve seen carrots at $22 a case.
this winter were horrendous." Beef is higher too, and fish was
way up during Lent.
Squeezed on one side by the price of ingredients, the partners are
constrained on the other by price barriers their customers won’t
"We haven’t raised prices in two-and-a-half years," DiMeglio
says. Asked how high office workers will go for lunch, he doesn’t
hesitate. "That’s it. We’re tapped," he says. Customers will
not pay more than $5.00 for a sandwich.
Gallery Cafe finds it a challenge to serve up meals made of fresh
ingredients while straddling an inflexible price point, but the
is breezing through another common business problem. While up and
down the Route 1 Corridor employers of all stripes struggle with
this company’s owners say finding — and keeping — good help
has never been a problem. And this despite the fact that, according
to Trump, they overstaff, keeping an extra person in the dining room,
and in the kitchen, ready to fill in if customer traffic suddenly
Training workers is the best part of the job for Trump, who has been
an educator/evaluator with the Culinary Institute’s student externship
program, and a mentor to aspiring chefs in the restaurant she owned,
and in those at which she has worked. She says a cafeteria, despite
its concentrated rush, is a better place for training chefs than is
a restaurant, where the flow of orders is constant. "One employee
I taught started as a dishwasher," she recounts. "Now he’s
composing the most beautiful salads. That’s what I enjoy the most.
We grow them." Workers generally come to Gallery Cafe through
word of mouth, and the top ones are given a shot at managing a
Rising in the pipeline now are Virginia Milius and Pete Sapon. Neither
had a culinary education or a food service background before joining
Gallery Cafe. Milius, who grew up in Queens and first worked in the
area as a clerk at the Corning Revere store in Forrestal Village,
has been with the company for three years. Not only did she not cook
when she arrived, but she wasn’t too keen on experimenting with eating
either. "I wouldn’t even have tired red peppers when I came
she says. Now she talks of candying walnuts and making brittles to
add to salads. Where she found retail boring, she says "I love
cooking. It gives me an adrenalin rush."
Sapon, a native of Guatemala, began working for DiMeglio nine years
ago, but left for a couple of years to try working in Chicago. Back
again, and getting ready to move up into management with the company,
he says the appeal is being part of a team in an organization that
feels like a family.
For the whole Gallery Cafe crew, there is no question that corporate
cafeterias are absolutely the venue of choice for restaurant
Among them, they have worked in every type of food service setting,
but as one they say nothing beats their current gig. The reason is
lifestyle. The lunch rush ends before 3 p.m., and by 4 p.m. the pots
are scrubbed, the floor is washed, and the day is still young, leaving
time for family, school, or sports. There is a feeling of being part
of the mainstream that restaurants rarely offer. Weekends are free,
and, like everyone else, they get a day off to celebrate Thanksgiving
and Memorial Day. Says Trump, "You can have a life."
Joe Gillies, owner of Independent Dining Concepts, grew
up in the kitchens of his family’s restaurants, first the Town &
in Nutley and then the Chadwick Diner at the shore. Childhood memories
include the time the prep cook, a native of Trinidad, "disappeared
with all the secret recipes." Gillies’ grandmother stepped in,
replacing the departed employee’s specialties with her own Italian
Gillies’ father is retired now, and the family diner is a memory.
"It’s a tough business," he says. "It’s just non-stop,
90 to 100 hours a week. Every night, weekends."
A graduate of Nutley High School, who says he has been working in
restaurants since he was 10, Gillies wanted a career in food service,
but one that was less demanding. During a sabbatical from the family
diner he managed a Ground Round restaurant, and more recently worked
for Campus Food Service, a corporate dining company based in North
Jersey. After two years with Campus, he formed his own corporate
company, and went out on his own.
In 1998, Gillies opened Cafe 500 at 500 College Road East. Five more
corporate cafeterias followed in the next three years. Independent
Dining Concepts runs the cafeterias at 100 Overlook Center, 3
Way, 600 Alexander Park, the Princeton Insurance Building on Alexander
Road, and on Davidson Avenue in Somerset. He has 18 employees, and
plans to add more cafeterias. His company sometimes takes over
cafeterias and sometimes builds them from the ground up within new
office buildings. The economic slowdown is stalling talks on some
projects, but Gillies says the concentration of offices in this area
creates plentiful opportunities.
He was drawn to Central Jersey area not only because of its growing
roster of office parks, but also because he finds workers in this
area to be affluent and willing to spend money for a good lunch.
had a building that was predominantly state," he says. The state
workers that frequented that cafeteria were "lower paid
and, he says, "We saw a huge difference in the per-person check
In order to be profitable, a corporate cafeteria has to be in a
that has at least 450 to 500 workers, he says. And the cafeteria needs
to pull a lot of them. "It’s a shortened day," he says of
the time span during which most cafeterias are open each day. "You
have to maximize every minute."
Gillies’ niche is the cafeteria that is neither too small, nor too
big. On one end, there will not be enough traffic, on the other end,
he finds corporations prefer to go with large cafeteria operators
such as Sodhexo Marriott. There in the middle are companies, or
office buildings, that don’t want to deal with an untried solo
but don’t offer enough traffic to appeal to one of the mega cafeteria
Gillies says his company is big enough to do bulk buying, and has
the staff and the expertise to add another cafeteria easily. He is
glad to go after the medium-sized sites, and says the fact that he
is willing to design their cafeterias and supervise construction helps
him get them. He says that the biggest cafeteria operators often
configuration specifics to landlords, and insist the landlords pay
to have them built. He is willing to work with whatever space the
landlord is allotting for a cafeteria. Most often, it is not a very
"Building developers do want cafeterias on site," he says,
"but it is not feasible for them to give us a lot of room."
The lion’s share of square footage has to be given to rent-paying
tenants, and, like other cafeteria operators his size, Gillies
this. "We get squeezed into a small space," he says. "We
have to be creative."
Gillies designed the cafeteria at 600 Alexander Park and at Davidson
Avenue in Somerset. And while space allotments were not generous,
he says he made sure to build in "the proper equipment for menu
variety." Friends sometimes say they envy him his "captive
audience" of office workers, people who often have no other lunch
options nearby. And indeed, he does say that a factor to weigh in
deciding to open a cafeteria is the proximity of other lunch options.
But if he doesn’t offer a variety to the people who drop in day after
day, he knows "they will just get in their cars and go out on
While he has left the 24/7 life of the diner behind him in favor of
watching his sons, Tyler and Jason, play baseball and soccer, Gillies
has built parts of that early experience into his own company. His
Manhattan clam chowder, for instance, is made with the recipe he
from the late Gene Landwehr, longtime owner of the sprawling
on Route 29 opposite the Delaware River that is now Anthony Merlino’s
Landwehr’s family spent summers at the shore, near the Chadwick Diner,
and his children worked there. "Gene was bored when he
Gillies recounts, "so he came to work for us." Landwehr
the diner’s cuisine. "A lot of my culinary training came from
Gene," he says. "He taught me everything I know,"
the clam chowder recipe.
The chowder recently sparked a conversation between Gillies and one
of his corporate cafe customers. She remembered the chowder from its
earlier incarnation, and is now eagerly waiting for it to show up
at the eatery that is just an elevator ride away from her desk.
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