Feeding Pfizer - Kalamazoo Employees During COVID-19 Vaccine Development

By: Meghan French | January 15, 2021 | Community, Company, culinarians

The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine was one of the hottest topics of 2020.

The world watched and waited for months to see who would succeed in bringing the much-needed vaccine to market safely and swiftly, and it’s no secret that Pfizer has been at the forefront of research and development. Now the media is abuzz about their newly released vaccine. As we enter 2021, many front-line workers have now received the vaccine, and people around the globe await their turn. 

All the while Pfizer employees at the Kalamazoo, Michigan location have been in labs and on production lines, Creative Dining employees have been feeding their entire workforce. 

“We have been a part of the race to save lives for months,” says Ross Keller, Creative Dining Food Service Director at Pfizer – Kalamazoo. “Everyday our team talks about how we are living history; how we can’t wait to tell our grandkids “we were there” when they learn about the events of 2020 in their history books (or ipads!) someday.”

The “race” terminology is literal when it comes to Keller and his dining team of 15 as they prepared and delivered individually packaged meals to Pfizer – Kalamazoo employees daily — around the clock spanning three shifts. “I clocked in at 19,000 steps today,” said Ross with a laugh, “And many on my team have much more!”

Since the pandemic hit, Pfizer – Kalamazoo’s number one concern has been “safety, safety, safety” according to Keller.

From creating an onsite chemical team to take extra measures for enhanced safety, to collaborating with Creative Dining to address how to serve meals to their employees in a new way, it has always come down to following the heightened sanitation and health codes. “What is the right thing to do? The most safe thing?” Keller says are the questions Pfizer – Kalamazoo’s leadership asks continually.

Creative Dining has been operating an onsite cafe within Pfizer – Kalamazoo for 9 years, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, catering and more to employees on all three shifts.

But with Covid, everything changed.

What was once a hub of community tables and many self-serve options had to pivot overnight.

“They trust us as food safety experts,” says Anne Huyge, an Operations Director at Creative Dining who oversees Pfizer – Kalamazoo’s dining program. “And because of that, our partnership works really well.”

Keller explained that even before Covid, Pfizer – Kalamazoo supported employees in meaningful ways. But what really blew him away was their decision to give each employee one free meal per shift for several weeks in the middle of 2020 to say thank you for their hard work.

“Many times you think companies only care about budget,” said Huyge, “But often we find that is not the case with our clients, especially Pfizer – Kalamazoo. They talk much more about safety than about dollars, and make decisions based on what is best for their people.” 

Keller chimed in to add, “I have worked for Creative Dining for over 12 years now, in half of dozen corporate locations. I have never seen a company who is more dedicated to the health, wellness and safety of their employees than Pfizer – Kalamazoo.”

What was on the menu recently?

A holiday meal crafted by Keller, who is a “chef at heart” even after being promoted to a Food Service Director. 

“I spoke with the Pfizer – Kalamazoo Leadership Team about the best way to gift their 2,000 employees during the holiday season. We debated on giving hams or pies, but everyone loved the meals we had served so much, we decided to make a special seasonal version.”

On the plate for the festivities was a Grilled Chicken Breast with Holiday Chutney, a Twiced Baked Cheddar Potato topped with Sour Cream and Chives, Pan Roasted Green Beans with Parisian Carrots and Cherry Tomato, and Dutch Apple Pie with Snickerdoodle Cookie Drizzled with Salted Caramel. 

Holiday Meal at Pfizer – Kalamazoo prepared by Creative Dining

“Dessert was the favorite,” said Keller, which was echoed by a text he received from a Pfizer – Kalamazoo employee that read, “Mind if I grab two more pieces of pie from the kitchen?” 

“Go for it!” Keller typed back with a grin.

With Pfizer’s vaccine newly released and media outlets surrounding the Kalamazoo, Michigan headquarters, Keller and team are now being tapped to cater meals for high profile media personalities.

“It’s hard work,” says Keller, “But our team is one full of pride. Even with all that is going on, everyone comes ready to serve. The cook who works the grill each night does school lessons with his three children all day, but always shows up with a smile ready to work all night.”

Dan Walters, who has been cooking at Pfizer – Kalamazoo for over decade, adds, “I have always enjoyed serving my customers, who I know are working hard to help others. Now is no exception.”

Certainly this “race” is more like a marathon for everyone – no matter scientist or chef. And we all need to re-fuel to keep running it well.

It’s no small task, but the partnership between Creative Dining and Pfizer – Kalamazoo has managed to do very well; with a cherry — or shall we say caramel drizzle — on top.

As for Pfizer – Kalamazoo, here at Creative Dining we applaud you for your relentless pursuit and tireless efforts to find a vaccine that keeps each of us safe.

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