By Mike Buzalka || Food Management || August 18, 2017

Known for its healthful snack products, the company makes a major commitment to nutrition and sustainability in its onsite dining program as well.

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Kali’s Kitchen feeds an average of 70 at breakfast and 140 at lunch on a typical day.

Kali’s Kitchen, the onsite café at the Emeryville, Calif., headquarters of healthy snack maker Clif Bar & Co., is the first, and so far only, corporate dining operation to receive Gold certification in sustainability and nutrition from the United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC) Eat REAL (Responsible Epicurean Agricultural Leadership) program.

Eat REAL audits foodservice providers’ front and back operations—including sourcing, cooking practices and menu options—to gauge the extent of its commitment to holistic nutrition and environmental stewardship. With a score above 85 percent, Kali’s Kitchen is not only the only Gold certified corporate foodservice nationwide, but also the first food provider in the nation to receive this level of certification.

Scratch prep and locally sourced and/or organic ingredients are the norm, and customization of meal choices is a priority in Kali’s Kitchen.

“Clif Bar has been at the leading edge of employee foodservice for years through their private employee restaurant Kali’s Kitchen,” remarked Eat REAL COO Caesare Assad in announcing the certification award. “Kali’s Kitchen provides an exceptional case study for how foodservice can be an integral part of company culture—impacting not only employees’ performance, but also the local food system at large.”

“What we’re really proud of is our sustainable mission on the sourcing side,” says Scott Erickson, executive chef for Kali’s Kitchen. “Clif Bar as a whole and Kali’s Kitchen as an extension [of the company] focuses very hard on sourcing local, organic, sustainable produce as well as from GAP [Global Animal Partnership] certified producers for all our meat products. We buy whole animals where we can and we focus a lot on scratch cooking, taking things from raw product all the way through” to completed dishes.

A major component of REAL certification is the amount of processed, prepackaged product being purchased, Erickson says, so the Kali’s Kitchen approach of almost total scratch production was a key factor in the Gold certification.

The vast majority of the product used by Kali’s Kitchen is organic and/or local, according to Erickson. For its produce needs, it partners with a local aggregator called Capay Valley Farm Shop, which works with some 50 farms and ranches within a 20-mile radius of its hub in Esparto, which is about 75 miles from Emeryville.

“We order from them and they deliver it the next day,” Erickson remarks. “It’s a really great system that we’re trying to help build with them.”

Most of the meat comes from a local butcher shop that sources from a 150-mile radius. Similarly, deli meats are all from GAP-certified local suppliers and all the eggs the kitchen uses come from a single farm in the area.

Kali’s Kitchen serves about 140 lunches on a typical day, with the salad bar being the most popular option. “We keep that stocked with all kinds of meats and proteins and vegetables, even microseasonals,” Erickson says. “If something’s only in for a week and available from just one supplier, we’ll get as much of it as we can and serve it for that one week.”

Elsewhere, there are weekly specials while the everyday menu is “highly customizable,” Erickson says. A vegan rice bowl customers can top any way they like is a popular selection, and there’s a full deli where diners can either design their own or choose one of the weekly specialty sandwiches. In all, there are at least half a dozen entrée choices each day, including a signature vegan tomato soup that’s always available and several other soup/stew options, plus vegan or beef burgers and tacos.

Kali’s Café is only open 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. or so for breakfast service and 11:30 a.m. to around 2 p.m. for lunch service. It shuts down afterward.

“When we first opened up, H.R. was very insistent that they wanted employees to go home at the end of the day,” Erickson says. “Work-life balance is very important here, something I appreciate having come from the restaurant industry.”

Kali’s Kitchen does receive a subsidy from the company, which allows it to keep prices for employees lower and also lets it procure higher quality ingredients than might otherwise be possible, benefiting both the in-house diners and the community at large.

“That’s kind of Clif Bar’s commitment, that they offer me this subsidy and I use it to better the supply chain,” Erickson summarizes. “They say, ‘Let’s use our money and power to help some of these farmers get going and get things up and running.’”

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