Food is Nourishing, Meals are Galvanizing

The following is an excerpt from N6A CEO Matt Rizzetta's upcoming book, Embrace the Pace: The 100 Most Exhilarating Lessons Learned in a Decade of Entrepreneurship. Click here to pre-order before its official release on March 14, 2020.

Growing up Italian-American in New York, it’s impossible for your life not to revolve around food.

Turkey was merely window dressing on Thanksgiving. The real Thanksgiving meal was a continuous flow of antipasto, lasagna and cheesecake until eventually you exploded. Christmas Day was just a continuation of the prior night’s feast of fish, and the words “I’m full” were actually translated as “you need another plate” in the dialect of old-school New York Italians. Meals were never over until zippers popped, and a fresh jar of Brioschi (the Italian version of Alka-Seltzer) was always served to wash down the contents of the meal.

Even if I gained 10 pounds over the summer, my grandmother would tell me I was “losing weight.” And God forbid I didn’t put on a few pounds before the school year started — that was immediate grounds for a psychological evaluation and a head examination.

This was my life growing up. My greatest childhood memories are over food, typically in a family setting, all of us sitting at one table.

When I started our business in 2010, I wanted to establish many of these family-style traditions at the company. I saw firsthand the galvanizing impact food could have on family and other loved ones, so I figured it could serve the same purpose in the workplace.

Even though budgets were tight in the early days, we found a way to scrape together enough money to pay for everyone’s lunch on Thursday. The staff got to choose from any local restaurant. There was only one rule: We had to eat together.

I learned quickly that, just like with family, food brought our team closer together in the workplace. Correction: It wasn’t food that brought us together — it was meals that brought us together.

I learned that food is nourishing, but meals are galvanizing.

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Food itself doesn’t do anything to bring people closer. It’s sharing meals, interacting and exchanging stories that inspire unity among people. Our lunch tradition was a great way to create bonds and team chemistry in the early days. We were just a few people nestled into a shared office in midtown Manhattan, but through our weekly meal together, we were able to learn about one another, discuss goals for the company and develop the chemistry that is so essential during the start-up phase.

Our weekly lunch is still happening, and it continues to be a source of excitement among our employees. Everybody wants to see what’s on the menu each week and looks forward to interacting with their teammates over food. In fact, I can’t recall any week we ever skipped our Thursday lunch.

Beyond our Thursday lunch, we’ve grown our meals budget considerably over the years. Now we also have pizza Fridays, monthly custom omelette stations, Thanksgiving team meals and my personal favorite, our Seis de Mayo celebration, our own version of Cinco de Mayo, complete with a mariachi band, margaritas and Mexican specialties.

In our earlier days, when our team was much smaller, my mother-in-law Teresa used to come into the office a few times a year and cook for the staff. The meals were extravagant and everybody loved them. They usually consisted of homemade wine and sausage, fresh pasta, eggplant parmesan and pastries from the legendary Villabate Alba on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn. The staff got a real kick out of it, and some of our most galvanizing moments came during these meals.

Even in one-on-one settings, I’ve always preferred to conduct my most important meetings over meals. Quarterly budget meetings, monthly executive off-sites with my chief operating officer, annual performance reviews with my direct reports, management retreats and goal-setting sessions — each of these is conducted over a meal. I’ve found it brings my direct reports and me closer together and creates a relatability and a connection between us that is difficult to replicate in an office environment.

I’m sure if you look back on your career, you’ll find that some of your most memorable moments with co-workers have happened over meals. Not over food, but over meals.

Food is nourishing, but meals are galvanizing. That’s a lesson I’ve learned since childhood and that has served me well in the workplace.

Posted by Matt Rizzetta