By Renee Brincks
In early 2020, weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic paused public and private events at 1440 Multiversity, the campus culinary team turned its focus to the community. Santa Cruz County needed help feeding individuals in area shelters, so 1440 Assistant Director of Food & Beverage Deric Nadeau started making plans.
Virus transmission details were sparse at that time, and safety was Nadeau's top priority. He broke the kitchen facilities into different sections, assigned small staff teams to each section, and outlined schedules that kept crews from overlapping. Then, teams got to work crafting nourishing food from locally farmed ingredients and elements grown at 1440, in Joanie's Garden.
"We made about 60,000 meals for homeless individuals over the course of three months. We had about 40 people working at Kitchen Table, our culinary facility, and not a single case of Covid. Creating that system and seeing our team succeed was heartwarming. It's one of my proudest accomplishments at 1440," Nadeau says.
A unique background in business and baking positioned Nadeau to make an impact with the Kitchen Table crew. It is surprising, though, that he never intended to work in the food and beverage industry. Growing up, Nadeau watched a few family members navigate the ups and downs of restaurant employment. He wanted to follow a different path.
Still, when a casino opened near his Michigan university, the finance major saw a way to earn some tuition money. Nadeau planned to wash dishes until he turned 21, when he could work as a dealer. But at the casino, a pastry chef noticed his work ethic and encouraged Nadeau to join the bakery team.
"Within three months of working in the bakery, I knew that food was something I wanted to do. I truly enjoyed it, and I was picking things up faster than others. People who had been in the industry for decades were coming to me for guidance and direction. That's when I realized that I had a future here," he says.
Interested in expanding his culinary experience while taking some time to explore, Nadeau went to Australia on a working holiday visa. He spent six months as a pastry chef in a high-end Melbourne restaurant, helped open a patisserie in Darwin, and traveled around Australia, New Zealand and Europe before landing back in Michigan.
Nadeau continued working in local restaurants as he finished his finance degree. Then, after shivering his way through another snowy winter, he decided to move west. He spent some time exploring the California coast, and ultimately fell for the ocean scenery and easy mountain access of Santa Cruz. Though a job took him to the Grand Canyon, Nadeau kept an eye on Craigslist. Four months into his Arizona adventure, he spotted an ad for openings at 1440.
"I sent in an application. The day I heard back about an interview, I put in my notice at the Grand Canyon and came out here on a whim. I was hired a week later," Nadeau says. "This place just had an energy that drew me to it. I left my interview feeling like this is where I need to be, and that's not a feeling I've ever had anywhere else."
He joined the team led by then-Executive Chef and current Director of Culinary & Innovation Kenny Woods in May 2017 – the last cook hired to the talented group – about three weeks before 1440 opened to the public. Though he'd always worked as a pastry chef, Nadeau now wanted to gain expertise in plant-based cooking and savory dishes. A few days before the first guests arrived, however, he overheard Woods and the executive sous chef discussing their search for a baker.
"I swore to myself that I wasn't going to do it, but after a couple of days of listening to them, I finally set down my knife and said, ‘You guys know that I'm a pastry chef, right?'" Nadeau says.
He worked as a hybrid pastry chef-cook for his first few months at 1440, and then moved into a chef de cuisine role. After taking the initiative to write prep lists, manage ordering and make back-of-house decisions, Nadeau earned a promotion to executive sous chef. When a front-of-house manager left, he stepped into a senior operations manager position, which he held until March 2022 when he was elevated to Assistant Director of Food & Beverage.
The opportunity neatly blends Nadeau's experience in the culinary arts and business.
"I oversee finances, teams, proposals and administration, along with day-to-day operations. I've built a lot of systems and spreadsheets that we use to manage food cost and labor budgets. I think quite often about how I've come full-circle back to that finance degree," he says.
In addition to streamlining budgets and creating efficiencies, Nadeau has helped build 1440's supportive kitchen and campus culture. He's proud of his team's ability to take deep breaths and solve challenges together, and he appreciates how colleagues at all levels of the organization respect and appreciate one another. Managers from other departments help clear tables or polish silverware when culinary staffers are busy, for example. Joanie and Scott Kriens, 1440's co-creators, know employees by name.
"This is a beautiful place to work. People are genuine. They're authentic. They care about what they're doing, and they care about how you feel as much as they care about our work," Nadeau says.
Joining the 1440 family has changed how Nadeau connects with the people around him. He describes himself as an introvert, and he believes his coworkers' compassion and empathy have taught him to engage with others more fully.
"My own compassion and empathy were really born here and have grown tremendously. We have conversations that matter. We ask how others are feeling, how their life is going, how their partner or their children are doing. We actively listen. Before, I kind of did those things in passing. But now, I stop and say, ‘Really, how are you?' Genuinely connecting with people has been my biggest takeaway, as far as personal growth," Nadeau says.
Paying that close attention to others' feelings, concerns and needs helps team members maintain and strengthen 1440's campus culture. Everyone's viewpoints matter and everyone has a voice. That intentional approach also brings a different cadence to productivity.
"We get a lot of things done here. We're productive, and we have fun. But it's not like a typical hospitality or food and beverage job, where everybody pushes themselves really hard. This isn't the traditional kitchen, where the executive chef ideas are all that matters," Nadeau says. "We take the time listen to and consider everyone's opinions."
That open-mindedness and authenticity extend to the guest experience, as well. Nadeau knows staff members to be thoughtful, compassionate individuals interested in bettering the world around them.
"We work hard to give back to the surrounding community," he says. "We've started a ripple effect. My goal is to continue making a positive impact. Let's see how big we can get that ripple to be."