Business

SnapChef helps food businesses fill jobs — with workers it has trained

At SnapChef in Dorchester, the company’s Meagan Greene worked with trainees.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
At SnapChef in Dorchester, the company’s Meagan Greene worked with trainees.

Sometimes the most important job in a kitchen can be the simplest.

Prepping a salad, washing dishes, and getting plates to diners on time requires skills as necessary to running a culinary operation as the chef’s.

And with their long hours and low pay, those jobs can also be the hardest to fill.

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That’s one of the challenges for Dorchester-based SnapChef, the largest culinary training and staffing company in New England. According to a US Department of Labor report, jobs in the food and beverage sector rose by 53,000 in July — bringing the total added over the year to 313,000. At the same time, restaurants and food-service facilities are struggling to find and retain employees to do those jobs.

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An average of 50 to 60 people pass through SnapChef’s doors every week for orientation. The company provides training to a diverse pool of temporary employees before placing them in food-service positions at universities, hospitals, casinos, and hotels across the state.

The institution generally pays SnapChef for the hours the employee works, while SnapChef pays the employee for working as a line cook, a dishwasher, or in any number of other jobs. Pay depends on the position.

“You give people opportunities and treat them like human beings and people are excited about being able to do things for themselves,” said Todd Snopkowski, founder and chief executive of SnapChef, which also has training facilities in Worcester and Cranston, R.I. In June, the company announced plans for a location in Springfield.

Since its launch in 2002, the company has trained more than 5,000 people. Currently, it provides more than 1,400 with permanent employment.

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Which is what Alexandra Fruzzetti is hoping for.

The 26-year-old arrived in Boston from Bridgewater three months ago to stay in a halfway house. On July 31, Fruzzetti attended the first day of training for SnapChef’s newest class, at its workforce development center and corporate headquarters on Washington Street in Dorchester.

After struggling with heroin addiction and living on the streets, she believes the training can be a new beginning for her — and for her 6-year-old daughter.

“I knew I needed to change my life,” Fruzzetti said. “I couldn’t provide for her anymore. I’m just grateful for the little progress I’ve made in these short three months. It’s a lot different; it’s literally the little things. Just having a bed.”

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the number of jobs in the food and beverage industries will continue to grow through 2024.

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Will Gilson, chef-owner of Puritan & Co. in Cambridge, said services and training like those provided by SnapChef and other companies are critical for the food and dining industries. Rather than individual restaurants recruiting would-be employees, he thinks the model will shift, with companies like SnapChef training much of the industry’s entry-level workforce.

Snapchef student Zeke Tejada, of Dorchester, shook out a tablecloth as he helps to break down after an open house.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Snapchef student Zeke Tejada, of Dorchester, shook out a tablecloth as he helps to break down after an open house.

“Any position I put up that’s in management or being creative with the menu, I’m inundated with resumes,” Gilson said. “Those are the positions they want. If you think of running a football team, not every person is a quarterback. You need people to be offensive and defensive. Their job is to do the grunt work every day to get the job done.”

Jennifer Bombard, general manager for the food-service company Sodexo, said there are weeks they reach out to SnapChef for five people to work that morning at corporate cafeterias.

“They bring value because it’s their reputation,” Bombard said. “If they provide poor staff, it’s only going to hurt their business.”

Snopkowski agrees that solid recruiting takes time and effort. But education is also essential. There have been 60,000 jobs added over the last three years in Boston, said John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development.

Snapchef student Zeke Tejada, of Dorchester, leans back to looked out of the window as he helps to clean up after .
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Snapchef student Zeke Tejada, of Dorchester, leans back to looked out of the window as he helps to clean up after .

With a tight labor market, having more training pipelines can help meet the demand. Entry-level work in the food industry has some of the highest turnover and is costly as a result.

Marquis Jones, 28, stumbled upon SnapChef while he was on his way to his uncle’s house. He walked past its headquarters in the rain. Soaked, Jones had no bus fare when someone outside of SnapChef asked if he had a job and told him to come in for an orientation.

Jones has a rough history, having served 18 months in jail for breaking and entering a vehicle.

His goal following his recent weeklong training is to find a job as a dishwasher.

“I love working,” said Jones, who lives in Mattapan. “I’m always looking for something to do, somebody to help.”

Snopkowski said the company is willing to take chances on people.

“There are folks that have had bad first runs, second runs, and third runs,” Snopkowski said. “We take all that into consideration. We hire for the right attitude. We work with reentry programs . . . it’s taking the time to get to know somebody before you make a judgment call.”

William McDonough, Director of Recruitment and Chef Instructor at Snapchef, right, spoke to his students.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
William McDonough, Director of Recruitment and Chef Instructor at Snapchef, right, spoke to his students.

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.