Jennifer DeBonis, Food Services Manager, Central Kitchen, San Rafael
Jen has been handling prepared foods at Woodlands for the past 18 years and is now managing our new central kitchen in San Rafael, which makes most of the prepared foods for all of our stores.
How has your job here at Woodlands evolved over the years?
I’ve been at Woodlands for almost 18 years (half of my career) and I’ve been working in a professional kitchen since I was 18 years old. I initially got hired at here as a prep cook. There were only two or three of us at the time making all the food for the cold case. I was soon made sous chef, then deli manager, then assistant production manager, and I eventually landed on my current title of food services manager. I’m responsible for keeping “the machine” going here at Woodlands. Over the years I stopped doing any of the actual cooking, and now focus more on the administrative side—I do miss the cooking sometimes, though.
All the prepared foods that our stores sell are made here in the central kitchen, aside from foods that are served in the hot cases, which are made on location to keep as fresh as possible. In the deli section, everything you see in the cold case is made in this kitchen, aside from the pre-made sandwiches.
I’m kind of the “fixer” for Woodlands—I troubleshoot any problems that come up and get employees any items they need for the business to run smoothly. I also organize Woodlands’ donation program, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. We’re mostly focused on donating to schools, which is incredibly rewarding.
On an average day, first thing I do is make sure the kitchen is functioning smoothly. I’m also responsible for sourcing all of our raw products and making sure we get the best quality items for the best price. I take care of any problems that arise from deliveries, and manage the software used at Woodlands for signage, scales, and recipes, which helps us put together order lists and scale up recipies.
We produced our food out of our Kentfield store for many years and went offsite with our kitchen in March 2017 when we knew we were going to open a new store in San Francisco. That was a massive change. There was a lot that came with moving our kitchen away from our store—we had to adjust all the logistics and increase the scale of food we produce.
How have your operations changed with the move to a new, larger facility?
In the new kitchen, it’s very different not to be onsite at the store itself. I love seeing the community in Kentfield, and it was a difficult change to be separated from the store. It’s been a fun logistical challenge to get things here rolling smoothly. We work hard here and are proud to run a safe, clean kitchen—we recently had a successful visit from the health department.
The move was also the perfect time to revamp our menu—we now have more space to do some things that we couldn’t do in the previous Kentfield space. We’re currently working on adding many new healthy food items to freshen things up. We’re focusing on foods with simple, clean ingredients that are sourced responsibly.
I’m also very excited that we’re switching to a new tuna brand called Safe Catch which is certified low-mercury and sustainably caught—it tastes fantastic!
What’s your go-to dish out of all the ones you’re producing right now?
My favorite item we make here right now is an Ancho citrus salmon with brown rice and corn salsa with hatch chilis, which is an amazing dinner. The salmon has a dry rub with ancho chilis, lemon, lime, and orange. It’s very flavorful without being super spicy.