Artistry is just one part of Unidine’s recipe for culinary excellence.
When Richard Schenkel founded Unidine in 2001, he was on a mission to provide delicious, appealing, and nourishing food to hospital patients and residents living in senior care facilities.
Schenkel sought to reinvent the dining services industry, which, hobbled by a “procurement-driven, one-size-fits-all approach” and with a long trend of serving less-than-inspired food, was ripe for disruption. Unidine would not only offer healthy food prepared with care and artistry, the company would also provide strategic value to its clientele.
The model that he and his team developed over the next few years was founded on four principles: an exclusive focus on food and dining management services; a commitment to scratch cooking with fresh, responsibly sourced ingredients; exceptional customer service supported by a corporate culture rooted in an abiding passion for excellence in service and the culinary arts; and a strategic approach to client partnerships.
Today, Unidine is Schnekel’s vision incarnate. And, in a turn reserved for the real disruptors of every industry, at the end of 2017, the company was acquired by Compass Group, the world leader in food service management.
“Compass Group acquires the best-in-class in the verticals they operate in,” asserted Unidine’s Director of Supply Chain, Grayson Cariaga. A former Compass Group associate himself, Cariaga has somewhat of a unique perspective on the acquisition. “Unidine will maintain their brand,” he stated.
Unidine’s team members continue to lead our innovative health & wellness-focused approach to dining service across the United States, while our partners will provide us with an enhanced supplier network for our fresh food program, important technology upgrades, as well as enabling growth within the organization.
Built on Business, Delivered from the Heart
Unidine serves three major sectors: healthcare, senior living, and corporate dining.
“When it comes to contract food service, we are driving 225 unique restaurants that have different budgets, different clientele, are in different regions of the country, and different expectations,” Cariaga explained.
Bringing together clinical nutrition expertise and truly great tasting food is central to Unidine’s success.
“Our mantra is the ‘from scratch’ element,” he noted. “We are not a can-to-pan operation. We truly pride ourselves on making meals from scratch: roasting deli meats in the back of the house, baking baked goods daily, making our salad dressings and soups from scratch.”
A comprehensive training program brings the knowledge and confidence required to execute customized, top-shelf programs for the unique communities they serve.
From adopting a policy that improves the welfare of broiler chickens to the adoption of a 100-percent cage-free egg purchasing policy, and a commitment to providing meats free of growth hormones and dairy products from BST-free cows, Unidine is on the cutting edge of one of the food industry’s biggest trends: doing well by doing good.
The firm’s corporate group extends its services to the companies operating dining services for healthcare and senior care employees, to the benefit of its own health.
Writing in the December, 2016 edition of the Boston Business Journal, Schnekel reported, “[t]he culinary team’s daily creations, often using herbs and produce grown in our on-site garden, has increased measured salad bar consumption from an average of 120 pounds daily in 2012 to a record high of 307 pounds in one day just last week.”
Encouraging healthy meal choices, he added, increases employee productivity and satisfaction.
Meet the Chef
Chef John Ryan joined Unidine as the Vice President of Culinary on New Year’s Day, 2018. With three decades of experience in the food and beverage industry, Ryan found a home amongst Unidine’s mission, vision, and ethical business practices.
“My passion for food goes back to when I was a kid,” he shared. “Both of my parents grew up on farms in Ireland. We would go back to visit my grandparents. If I wanted eggs, I would go out to the chicken coop. If I wanted potatoes, I would go and dig them up.”
He started in the culinary field as prep cook at age 15. A move to Ireland and a stint working at different restaurants along the River Shannon refined his palate, and Ryan received his London City & Guilds 7061-7062 degree at the Irish Hotel & Catering University in Dublin, Ireland (CERT).
Before accepting the role at Unidine, Ryan led multi-unit operations and managed a portfolio of 237 U.S. accounts in top line sale as director of culinary operations worth $280 million. He’s cooked for the last three U.S. presidents, has been chosen as the executive chef for a heads of state luncheon at the United Nations in 2005, and won the ACE Culinary Gold Team Award in 2010.
As the Vice President of Culinary for Unidine, he provides strategic vision and dynamic leadership for all operations within the company.
“I’ve worked in this industry for a long time and had encountered Unidine a few times. Their values, mission, and Fresh Food Pledge to using local and sustainable produce whenever possible was in line with my personal goals as a chef.”
The company’s Fresh Food Pledge is all about fresh food prepared from scratch and maintaining the integrity of the food. The menus Unidine provides—different for each resident in each community—is driven by seasonal availability and environmentally conscious options.
Ryan sets the standards of excellence while maintaining the integrity of Unidine's Fresh Food Pledge. Ryan’s motivation and reliability to provide incomparable customer service and dynamic performance is clearly displayed. Establishing objectives and a strong culinary voice for Unidine is evident through his training of team members and spearheading improvements to financial and food operations.
“My passion is to still be in the kitchen working arm and arm training the cooks and the chefs. We’re chef and food driven here at Unidine, and I want to continue that theme.”
His contributions to the community extend beyond his work at Unidine as well. He’s a member of the advisory board for Eva’s Kitchen, an anti-poverty program in New Jersey that provides food, shelter, housing, and medical care to troubled individuals and those living in poverty. He teaches there once a month, giving lessons to people who have a passion to cook but can’t afford to go to culinary school.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get this far in life. I wanted to give back to this neighborhood and the people and pass my knowledge onto the next generation.”
Health and Wellness at Every Life Stage
“Senior Living is the sector where we started,” Cariaga recalled. “We realized we had great programs that had different levels of support throughout the continuum of care. We aligned them under MemoryFaresm, which is an overarching solution that differentiates us in the marketplace. MemoryFaresm incorporates four culinary strategies—Fresh Bitessm, Puree with Purposesm, Fresh Benefitssm, and Oh So Goodtm, as well as sensory and environmental components that provide an important supplemental experience to dining.”
Fresh Bitessm combines art and science for the nutritional needs of diners with dementia and other cognitive impairments that make eating difficult.
“Our dietitians and chefs transformed everyday menus into nutritionally-dense bite size portions that are easily consumed,” he began.
“Puree with Purposesm is the longest-standing program that we have in place. One hundred percent of the purees we make for seniors are made from scratch using the same culinary expertise and quality of preparation.”
The puree is molded, piped, and decorated to closely resemble the whole food. “We call it dining with dignity,” Cariaga revealed. “It’s crazy what they’ve accomplished—you can’t even tell it’s pureed food. It’s more like art.”
Fresh Benefitssm creates higher calorie, high protein foods from scratch, eliminating the need to buying more costly, less desirable commercially produced supplements.
“We want to be a solution that our clients are proud of. At the end of the day, we are guests in our clients’ facilities. We want to make sure that whatever their programs are, we can customize it to the extent that will make them happy,” Cariaga said.
“We want to be a vital part of not just the food service community, but the entire community, regardless of what the facility does.”
Unidine was founded in 2001 with a focus on providing high quality service and an unwavering commitment to scratch food preparation. With a team of three employees, Unidine set out to provide a viable alternative to senior facilities and hospitals, believing that the dining services market was poorly represented by outdated practices and techniques and dominated by global providers with a procurement-driven, one-size-fits-all approach.
Today, Unidine operates in the healthcare, corporate, and senior living markets, and has grown to 230-plus client facilities across the United States, each dedicated to delivering a unique dining experience to its clients. Unidine focuses wholly on providing custom culinary experiences, featuring fresh, from scratch food production with an emphasis on health and wellness. The company has remained true to its original mission and continues to innovate and disrupt the industry with strategic solutions.