LA CROSSE, Wis. — When Paul Servais stepped into the role of foodservice director at Kwik Trip Inc., after an initial year as a store leader and another eight years as a district leader, the convenience store chain was "very green," still developing its foodservice program to be consistent across all its locations.
Eleven years later, Kwik Trip’s foodservice reputation has skyrocketed under the leadership of Servais, this year’s Convenience Store News Foodservice Leader of the Year honoree.
The La Crosse, Wis.-based chain continuously improves its fresh, high-quality foodservice and beverage offerings, leading it to make plans to more than double the size of its central commissary and add a test kitchen to experiment and develop new offerings.
So far in 2019, Kwik Trip has launched Kitchen Cravings, a line of take-home meals, and the retailer began testing delivery at select stores through a partnership with EatStreet. It is also readying a fried chicken program for a companywide rollout slated for February 2020. The program is currently being piloted and refined in approximately 45 stores.
Despite the continual evolution, Kwik Trip's overall mandate never changes.
"We want to sell more food safely," Servais said. "We said that day one, and we say it today."
A Hands-On Leader
During a typical week, Servais describes himself as "in the middle of everything." He’s heavily involved in product development, marketing, and even the production facilities themselves.
His background as a store leader and district leader gives him a better perspective of what it's like for store-level employees and because of that, he presents all developments to his team with the goal of maximizing the ability of the stores to get things done.
"When you have a seat at the table, it really helps to sell what you're trying to accomplish," he told CSNews. "I like to be out in stores as much as possible."
Servais regularly visits stores for multiple days each week, before returning to La Crosse for meetings and, often, new product sampling with the company’s chef.
Regardless of the specific initiative, Servais also makes sure to always keep in mind the quality, the value provided to customers and the store-to-store consistency, which he says are the three main factors that make Kwik Trip stand apart from the average c-store food offering.
He also learns important lessons from those times when Kwik Trip’s tries aren’t so successful.
"I would say there's failures every day," he said, explaining that this can include new items, programs or ways of doing things. But he believes this, too, is part of the fun because the failures come from taking chances and trying new things. "I'm fortunate that I work in a company where you can do that."
As a senior executive, Servais tries to lead by example. "I'm not going to expect anyone to do anything I wouldn't do," the 20-year Kwik Trip veteran said, acknowledging with a chuckle that some might see this as a cliché. He also believes that "you can never over-communicate."
Even as Kwik Trip ventures into new ways of offering food and expands its menu, Servais keeps the company's core values in mind. Clean stores that offer great service and quality products of perceived value might be sticking to the basics, he says, but consistently succeeding at those basics is what takes a c-store foodservice program from good to great.
For fellow foodservice operators who really want to step up their game, the Foodservice Leader of the Year advises them to step out of their kitchen for a while. Learning from others and networking with those in similar roles can make a significant difference.
"You get so buried in stuff every day, it's hard to take a step back," he said. "Get out in the industry, visit your competitors, visit your non-competitors in your trade area. ... That's helped me get where I am today."