Wildflour Caterers in Chantilly is about great food and great opportunities.
Photo Courtesy of Wildflour Caterers
“But I don’t want to talk about me,” protests Alberto Sangiorgio, general manager and executive chef of Chantilly’s Wildflour Catering when asked about his background in the restaurant and catering industry. “I want to talk about them!”
Sangiorgio, 64, is eager to talk about his 51-member staff, 33 of whom are adults with intellectual challenges. Wildflour has employed adults with developmental disabilities since it was established in Fairfax in 1994 by Jim Rogan, founder of Lorton electronics company E-Tron Systems Inc., which also employs disabled workers, and Jean Wood, a special education teacher at Fairfax High School.
Sangiorgio joined the not-for-profit company in 1998. “I started part-time,” says the European-trained chef in a heavy Northern Italian accent despite his more than 20 years in the U.S. “Then I fell in love with these kids.” Sangiorgio and his staff spend up to six months training each employee to do things like slice garlic or cut celery. “I don’t want speed,” he says. “I want them to be perfect. Speed comes after that.” Employees in the program also assist with deliveries and learn to perform other kitchen tasks.
“Even some of their parents don’t think they can do as much as they can do,” says Sangiorgio. Once, he says, he overheard a young employee in the kitchen telling his visiting mother that he had to cut the potatoes in exactly the same size or they wouldn’t cook properly. Sangiorgio says the mother was surprised by her son’s knowledge. “You know how much this builds self-esteem?” asks Sangiorgio. “It’s tremendous.”
Ranging in age from 20 to 60, Wildflour’s employees earn $7.25 per hour, receive paid sick leave and vacation and also have profit sharing opportunities. Several disabled employees have been with Wildflour for as many as 15 years. But for all this, “We don’t promote the disabilities, we promote the business,” says Sangiorgio. “If I approach you, I will approach you with the great food that we have.” WildflourCaterers.com