CEO & Founder
According to Harvard Public Health article, federal food law is clear: It bans “any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render [a food] injurious to health.”
Regulators have used that provision for decades to crack down on food adulterated with toxic chemicals or microbes, including the likes of Listeria and salmonella, that can make us acutely ill. Protecting people from these harms is essential, but let’s also put them in perspective: These regulated pollutants kill an estimated 1,400 Americans annually. By contrast, 1,600 Americans die daily from chronic food illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
In the past few years, evidence has mounted that these chronic illnesses are caused by harmful substances in ultra-processed foods. From heat-and-eat meals, including frozen pizza, to sweetened breakfast cereals, ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations of components from substances extracted or synthesized in laboratories. They are also staples of our diets.
Consuming processed foods is now in the limelight and being blamed for everything from an increased risk of developing obesity and heart disease to cancer and Type 2 diabetes, as well as various other detrimental health effects.
When Mary Clark Bartlett began her food service career in 1981 after graduating from The California Hotel and Restaurant Management program in Santa Barbara, CA, she knew there was a need for change. Being surrounded by processed food, Mary wanted
to make a difference and bring a revolution in the food industry. In 2003, Mary incorporated her food services company with co-founders Marvin Rodriguez (CFO) and Rey Hernandez (Senior VP), customizing programs to provide fresh, honest, local food. With a sustainable and mindful approach, Epicurean elevates the dining experience for clients in corporate campuses, educational institutions, and senior living communities.
Creating & Delivering Fresh Food
Mary built her business and brand by delivering fresh food from local farmers — before it was all the talk of the town. Over the past decade, she has exponentially grown her green-certified food contracting organization to 550 employees with operations at more than 60 restaurants, tech offices, private preparatory, and university campuses.
Epicurean Group advocates and is dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable food conventions. “We have great relationships with people we source food from,” explains Mary. “Other food providers are only aiming for the best prices in order to get rebates. But not us. We go straight to local sources. Obviously, the quality food does cost more, but if you comprehend their economics and teach how to negotiate, it’s a win-win for both groups. Food that is in season actually costs less pricey. Knowing the pricing and margins, all these things we are experts at, they have to do with teaching.”
“We’re transforming one environment – the food environment. We know that everyone is not inclined to make that change, and we understand that their agenda is not our plan. But we’re willing to listen to those who believe their values match our significance. A lot of meticulous details and a huge amount of work go into a campaign to change hearts and minds. But at the very nucleus of our mission and values is the sentiment that quality education makes for better professionals and sounder people.”
Since its commencement more than 20 years ago, Epicurean Group has practiced social and environmental commitment. They’re part of the company’s core values. To eradicate tyrofoam® and non-recyclable plastics used in their restaurants, Epicurean Group launched the GreenTown Co-op, an innovative non-profit buyers’ cooperative that replaces petroleum-based derivatives with compostable materials to reduce landfill waste. The co-op has helped to eradicate 21 tons of compostable waste from landfills annually. 2013, she was awarded the American Culinary Federation’s prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.
Epicurean Group is also a member of Slow Food and supports its Good, Clean, and Fair sustainable food model and education endeavors. The company’s Go Greener! program enlightens customers and clients about how they reduce waste in their cafés and how they can benefit at work and at home.
Why Leaders Need Good Food
There’s no lack of advice for leaders when it comes to being more productive, creative, and successful. People will tell them to balance work hours, get a good night’s sleep, and work out.
But Mary points out that eating healthily can help leaders be more successful. It may not seem like it, but the human body is interconnected. Even though the food you eat technically ends up in the stomach and not the brain, the nutrients in that food will travel via your bloodstream and go to every part of your body, including the brain. Healthy foods will deliver energy and nutrients in the bloodstream, while unhealthy foods will enrapture fats and lead to a lack of energy. But this doesn’t mean one can’t function on unhealthy foods. A balanced diet is important for mental health. Consuming a healthy breakfast can aid concentration and decrease the risk of depression, for instance. Some studies have displayed that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help enhance cognitive function and decrease the risk of cognitive reduction associated with age or disease.
Technically speaking, a human’s body and brain can continue to work if they eat fast food and soda daily, but they won’t work at their total capacity. And leaders need to be able to work at their full ability to achieve the level of success they are capable of. “Success in whatever you do is in the way you make everything work in your favor. Taking the time to understand what you put into your mouth each day could make the difference between a highly beneficial, fast-paced lifestyle and a slow, aimless life,” elucidates Mary.
Creating A Better Tomorrow
Being adaptable to changes in industry while still living their values – is what makes Epicurean Group thrive. When the pandemic forced new approaches to food service, they quickly met changing demands by shifting to flexible dining options, including upscale TakeAway, Espresso, and Concierge services, solutions that solved problems while still honoring deeper commitments, especially to their Green Business Certification. Change happens, but Epicurean will stay devoted to healthy, organic, and seasonal foods. Buying local, minimizing food waste, and reducing their carbon footprint will always be integral to the business model, no matter the new challenge.
Early in its development as a company, Epicurean Group understood the nutritional and environmental value of less food processing and meat production. “Our 2024 pledge to reduce meat on our menus by 10% is strong; we’re offering more high-protein plant-forward and minimally processed dishes,” says Mary. “When serving as a Delegate Member to Terra Madre, the non-profit Slow Foods bi-annual gathering in Italy, we brought back Ancient Grains in 2016 and Slow Beans in 2018 to enhance the effort. Clients have really enjoyed the inclusion, and demand has grown into a new market of natural proteins and grains now available throughout the entire Bay Area.”