Executive Spotlight: Jeffrey Amoscato
Executive Spotlight: Jeffrey Amoscato, Vice President, Supply Chain and Menu Innovation, Shake Shack.
Interview conducted by Rachel Manthei, 2nd year MBA Student, TCU Neeley School of Business
October 11, 2018
Rachel Manthei: Can you tell me about your background and how you got to your position as Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation at Shake Shack?
Jeffrey Amoscato: I actually started out in culinary school, cooking in restaurants in NYC and doing an apprenticeship in Italy. In my first real kitchen job, I decided I wanted to round out my education and get a bachelor’s degree. I went back to New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, where I received my bachelor’s degree in Food and Beverage Management. I came to Union Square Hospitality Group to finish my education with an internship. After graduating, I stayed on as a restaurant manager at one of the fine dining restaurants. After about a year, a purchasing position opened up in the building. We had four restaurants there, operating similar to a hotel with a centralized purchasing position. Knowing I didn’t want to go back into the kitchen as a cook, and not feeling it was my passion to be a restaurant manager, I decided to give the purchasing position a shot. For the first few weeks, I was like a deer in the headlights. No one knew where the money was going, and it really just wasn’t organized very well. It was a great experience, because I had to build everything from scratch. I did that for just over two years, before moving to the corporate office at Union Square Hospitality Group in August of 2017. The position was focused on group purchasing items, from chemicals to paper towels to coke. Of all the restaurants, Shake Shack was one of them, which was only a few years old. In January of 2011, Shake Shack created its own entity, separate of Union Square Hospitality Group. I moved over there to head up purchasing and culinary quality assurance at that time. Now, I am still responsible for all of our supply chain, having built it from one shack to opening internationally in the Middle East to the full international scale that we are at now.
RM: Since your studies were more focused on the food management side, how did you familiarize yourself with the supply chain side? What skills did you have to develop that you didn’t have originally?
JA: Good question. I always liked the business side of restaurants. I was good at numbers, so even though I didn’t go to school and get a degree in mathematics or purchasing, I liked figuring out how to get products from point A to point B in the most efficient way. It became a natural fit, and I picked up the skills along the way by making mistakes and learning how to do it better. I learned from constantly asking questions and learning the best way to negotiate and work with suppliers. I joke around that in the beginning, I didn’t even know how to spell supply chain. It wasn’t anything for me, I had never even heard it. My life was all about fine dining restaurants and I had no intention on working in a multi-unit restaurant chain or with supply chain or purchasing. The skills that have benefitted me are understanding the numbers behind what make restaurants work, but also having a curious intelligence to dig in and find out what story the numbers are telling. And most importantly, in the supply chain world, it is all about building mutually beneficial relationships.
RM: Were there ever times you had to advocate for yourself that you were capable in something that you didn’t necessarily have a degree in?
JA: I’ve been fortunate to be in a growing company, where most of us who have been here from the beginning are not multi-unit or chain restaurant people. We all figured things out together, and trusted that we were driven and understood our business well enough that we could figure it out. Several years back, I started going to the NRA supply chain conference, making connections with actual supply chain people who I have been able to reach out to and ask questions from. One of our early benefits was going international, which we did backwards. Most companies get mature, saturate their market, and then look international for expansion. We went international very early in our lifecycle, which forced us to learn a lot about our product and where it comes from. Fortunately, there was a supply chain professional on our partner’s side who asked questions that made me look into what we were doing and where our product was coming from to get it from the United States to the Middle East. Before going international, we just bought American cheese, and didn’t really know anything behind it. But going international forced us to really understand what was in that product, to be able to fill out the paperwork that was necessary. In my mind, I shifted then from a mindset of purchasing to a mindset of supply chain: understanding what you’re buying, who you’re buying from, and how it’s getting from point A to point B.
RM: Can you talk a little about the challenges in going international in the food business?
JA: In hindsight, we were fortunate to have gone to the Middle East first. I say that because – while there are certain regulations that you have to work with (no alcohol or pork) – once you know that it’s actually very easy for most of those countries. Because they don’t have a lot of natural agricultural resources to protect, they need to import their food. We had to go through and understand what labeling regulations needed to happen, who could apply the Arabic labels, what kind of shelf life requirements are there, and what the temperature requirements are. You had to make sure your cold chain could protect the product all the way through, since the docks where the shipping container arrives could be 120 degrees. We also learned about all of our ingredients, because as you go through the registration process you have to identify each component and know how it was produced. While it was a daunting task at first, in hindsight it was quite easy, especially in comparison to Japan. The Middle East also operated in English, because you are mostly communicating with expats on the other side. Japan, in contrast, had more stringent regulations, because they have a food and ag industry to protect. They also do not operate in English, which creates a language barrier. Turkey was also very challenging, because they have a very big agriculture industry to protect. They have a lot of regulations around GMO and additives. Our partners on the other side also understood their own food laws and codes to help us get through the ingredients information to decipher what is and is not allowed to be imported. Each new market is new learning, and there is no simple playbook to follow.
RM: How many countries does Shake Shack operate in now?
JA: 13. A few years back we brought on an international supply chain director to support me. I did probably 8 or 9 of the countries, but we’ve since gone to Hong Kong and are opening next year in mainland China. We just announced Singapore and the Philippines as well. Even though those are all in Asia, each country has its own requirements.
RM: I’m sure there aren’t many average days in your job, but if you had to describe some activities that you typically are doing, what would they be?
JA: Since my responsibility covers three disciplines – supply chain, culinary, and quality assurance – I try to touch on all of those (much more in supply chain and culinary than QA). My job involves tasting food that we’re creating, making sure it is what we expect it to be. I also work with my supply chain team on any large-scale domestic project or challenges. I am also heavily involved in our protein procurement, because it is such a big spend. That involves making sure we have adequate supply, costs are aligned, and that we know what we will need going forward. Towards the end of the day – because I’m also responsible for beer and wine – there could be some beer or wine tours to make sure we are getting what we want. It’s a fun day, with some eating, drinking, and number crunching in between.
RM: That’s great. Thank you for providing your perspective today!