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One-on-One with a SAGE Sales Executive: Paul Berry

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After 15 years with SAGE, Northeast Sales Executive Paul Berry is retiring. We’re so grateful for the energy, dedication, and integrity Paul has brought to our community over the years—not to mention the 46 venues he’s brought into our fold! We’re celebrating Paul’s SAGE career with a special one-on-one where he reflects on service, partnership, and the importance of keeping promises.

How’d you get started with SAGE?

I made one copy of my resume, one only, because I wasn’t crazy about any other company out there. I liked SAGE’s singular focus on the education market and students of all ages. I said, “If something comes up, I’d be interested in talking to you about an opportunity.” And a few months later, they asked me to sell New York and New England. It was a good fit, because I’d spent most of my life in Boston and New Hampshire, and I had a background in recruiting, which is all about selling—jobs to candidates, candidates to companies.

How’d you get involved with food service?

I’ve been in food service since I was 16 years old. To pay for my private independent high school, I worked as a busboy at a fine dining restaurant. If you came to work early, you got dinner. I tasted the food and said, “I’ve got to learn how to do this.” I applied for the first cook’s helper position that opened up, and I stayed in the kitchen all through high school and college, learning how to cook.

After college, I decided that I liked food service more than psychology and economics, so I took a position with a restaurant group. I realized I’d never get too far in the culinary side of things without formal training, so I got a job as a manager at a contract company. I’ve worked at every food service location you can imagine—hotels, restaurants, country clubs, yacht clubs, schools, colleges, corporate dining. Before I left the business to start my own recruiting firm, I was Regional Vice President for a dining services company.

How does that perspective influence your work?

I can walk into the kitchen of any school and know all the jobs, what we do and how we do it. I have good relationships with District and Regional Managers because I’ve done their jobs. And I can sit with a potential client and talk from experience about the quality of the food and the programs.

Why is dining important for our clients?

Clients are looking for a strong, stable partner. They’ve put their reputation in your hands, and you have to have their back, live up to your promises.

It’s a highly competitive marketplace for students. Prospective parents have high expectations. They’re not just asking about academics, sports, and college acceptances. They’re also asking: “Where is my child going to sleep? What is she going to eat?” So dining becomes a huge part of decision-making.

What makes SAGE special among dining service providers?

I’m very passionate about what we do, how we do it, and the fact that we do it better than anyone else.

First, we’re a people business serving food—it’s all about attentive service and delicious food. But beyond that, it’s unique that our venues continue to innovate and learn from each other’ best practices. Our HACCP [food safety program] is clearly better than all of our competitors’ in terms of detail, quality, and exceeding local sanitization expectations. I’ve never seen anyone else with such good liability coverage. And our Scratch FactorSM (Patent Pending) program [which quantifies exactly how much of our food is cooked from scratch] is revolutionary in terms of accountability and ownership of the claims we make.

How do you follow up with venues you’ve sold?

It’s always client-first, making sure that you develop a solid partnership with your clients.

So I’m there during opening week. After about a month, I go back and visit the client to make sure everything’s going as planned. And I attend the 60-day review, where all they key people on campus and at SAGE get together to discuss how the opening went: “Has everything that I promised in sales come true? If it hasn’t, what’d we miss?”

What’s been your favorite part of your job?

I love seeing our current operations in action, knowing that I was part of bringing SAGE to that school. It’s neat to be able to visit and see the kids in the dining hall smiling and eating foods that I never would’ve thought of eating when I was their age.

What’s made SAGE the right fit for you?

I have the easiest job in the company. I knock on doors and say, “This is what we do. These are our programs. If you’re not ready for it now, I understand. I’ll keep checking in.” At some point, they’ll be ready to talk to me, because what we’re offering is better than anything else on the market.

In 15 years, I’ve never had to go back to a client and apologize that we didn’t deliver something I promised. Not once. I know that the great people who support me—dishwashers, line servers, prep people—will live up to what I’ve promised to the best of their ability.

I feel proud about what I represent, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do it this many years.

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