By John Bartimole
ACF Chef Brandon LaVielle, CEC, AAC, follows a simple philosophy when it comes to running his business, Lavish Roots Catering in Burien, Washington: “People first,” he says. “We believe that if we want our people to take care of our guests, we have to take care of them first.”
And it’s worked. With an employee count of 350 FTEs (full-time equivalents), the company’s annual turnover rate hovers between four to five percent. One of the keys to the company’s loyalty is that last year, nearly one out of every four workers (more than 80 percent) earned a promotion. “We put our people in leadership roles,” says Chef LaVielle, who was inducted in the American Academy of Chefs, ACF’s “honor society,” this year during the 2023 National Convention in New Orleans. “It’s a great recruiting tool for us: come her, work hard and move up. As I said, we put people first.”
Chef LaVielle, who co-owns Lavish Roots, is understandably proud that they laid off no one during the pandemic. “Here we are now, coming out of the pandemic, people have started going back to the office and we’ve been able to double our staff,” he says.
Resourcefulness was a key to its survival during the pandemic. “We started doing curbside pickups, making meals to go,” he says. “Our story was simple during the pandemic: we prepare your food safely and our people don’t have the option of working from home — so, please help us out. And they did.”
Finding supplies was often a challenge during the pandemic, but resourcefulness again played a key. “If a meat supplier said they could get us 200 pounds of flank steak, we said ‘Great!’” he says. “It was more of a challenge to get packaging for the curbside pickups and deliveries. We were committed to using only recyclable or reusable containers. So, we no doubt put some food in weird-shaped containers.”
Thinking about that time, he adds, “that was a great chapter in our business because the camaraderie in the kitchen was incredible. I’ve never been a part of that experience before.”
Chef LaVielle said Lavish Roots is not a typical catering company. “We are more of a hospitality and staffing company that we started because we decided, in our previous positions, that we were overworked and underpaid,” he says. “We wanted to create a high-quality, upper-echelon food and service, and that’s how we came up with our name. It’s about what the earth gives us, it’s the roots—and that’s also tied to family.”
And that, too, has worked: the company recently celebrated its ninth birthday and, by Chef LaVielle’s own admission, “We are not the cheapest game in town. We pay our team well, we run a high overhead, we give three weeks PTO, 12 paid holidays, medical, a retirement plan with a match. As I said, we believe in treating or people well.”
The company provides about 20,000 meals a week to the area’s big tech companies, but also provides food for the entertainment industry and was once featured in a UPS commercial.
Family is paramount and part of the company’s “people first” philosophy; Chef LaVielle enjoys being a husband to his wife and a dad to his two daughters. “This allows me to coach the girls’ sports, to go on their field trips — we’re a big sports family and we often play golf together,” he says.
Check out Chef LaVielle’s recipes for Celery Root Hummus, which he serves both warm and cold and as a side or starch for a main dish and his Tomato Fennel Beurre Blanc, both of which he developed during an ACF Chef of the Year competition. “It’s literally great on everything. My favorite way is drizzled over the top of a poached, grilled, or roasted lobster tail! Or use as a sauce for a prawn scampi!”