David J. Haaf
Director of Bakery/Deli/Foodservice Operations
K-VA-T Food Stores Inc. (Food City)
Q. How has your career evolved over the years?
A. My love has always been in the foodservice industry. I started out at the local town country club doing dishes and food prep, then ended up leaving as executive chef. From there, I went on to Kirkwood Culinary Arts school and obtained a degree. I did my internship at Le Titi De Paris, a three-star French cuisine restaurant in Arlington Heights, IL. I competed on the Culinary Arts Travel Team and held various chef roles, including Hyatt Regency & Embassy Suites Hotels, Supper Clubs, Country Clubs & Virginia Tech University. While completing my store manager training with Cracker Barrel restaurants, I stumbled into a great career opportunity with Food City stores as their first corporate executive chef. I assisted the company with growth in their foodservice operations and later took over as director of bakery, deli and foodservice operations.
Q. What positions have you held in industry associations?
A. American Culinary Federation/Certified Chef de Cuisine and IDDBA/Retail Committee Member.
Q. What is your leadership philosophy?
A. Investment, training and development of our own associates and leadership. Empowerment of my leadership team. I believe if you give them tools, invest in training them and then give them the autonomy to do their jobs and grow in their positions with some coaching and guidance, the sky is the limit for the associate as well as the company’s growth and success!
Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?
A. Stay humble. My father raised me and taught me at an early age to ”stay humble, know your place and treat others the same. Life will fall into place after that.” He was absolutely correct, thank you Dad!
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve really learned that a strong personal/family life and faith in God really does translate into better focus and direction in my professional life. Prioritizing and scheduling quality time with my beloved family has given me new breath and an open mind for my professional endeavors with our company.
Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?
A. Wow…….where do you start?! COVID-19 definitely turned our foodservice world upside down. We saw significant growth and focus on the grab-and-go and Home Meal Replacement categories. We believe our customers simply got tired of being at home cooking every day but were scared to go out to restaurants. This resulted in huge growth in those two categories as well as comfort in sweet goods like pies and table cakes, for example.
Q. What technology or technical tools are indispensable to you in the workplace and why?
A. Electronic HACCP. Food safety is always job number one. We continue to work on enhancements to our digital HACCP systems to make them more efficient and proficient for our store associates to use. E-commerce is becoming more and more prevalent by our society and customers. If they can’t use or order it with their phone, it’s “not relevant”. We are and will continue to invest and train in our e-commerce platforms.
Q: What have been the biggest changes in the deli industry over the course of your career?
A. Two things come to mind. Evolution of convenience foods. Customers are looking for more ready-made products and, in some cases, still want quality product to put on their tables, but want to take credit for all the work. On the flip side, skilled labor to handle the day-to-day tasks of in-store production is becoming more and more challenging. It used to be you had several great bakers and decorators, and they seem to be training their replacements; not so much anymore. To help combat this, we are continuing to incorporate more formalized training/certification programs internally to cross train and pollinate our own associates into multiple skill positions.
Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?
A. Family time, martial arts, yard work, riding my motorcycle and boating.
Q. Are you married? If so, how long? How many children?
A. I’ve been married 16 years to my beloved wife Mellaine, and our beloved daughter Asiana Malaya is 11. I’m proud to note that my daughter and I achieved our black belt together last year, although she beat me to it at age 10!