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Ali A. Gonzalez: Influential Leader Driving Positive Change in Food Service

Ali A. Gonzalez is a highly accomplished and forward-thinking senior executive with over thirty years of experience in the culinary industry. He has established a remarkable record of success in culinary organizational development, sustainability, and creating quality foods and facilities. Throughout his career, Ali has accumulated a wealth of knowledge in food service modernization, making him a leading expert in the field. Ali’s background includes designing cost-effective facilities and creating diverse, world-class cuisine. His exemplary financial practices have also contributed to the economic success of various organizations. He is a proactive executive who masterfully creates organizational objectives, establishes measurable expectations, communicates a collaborative vision, and monitors performance to maximize effectiveness. He utilizes a hands-on approach to propel projects to an optimal conclusion.

Passion Takes the Wheel

Ali’s curiosity about food began at a young age when he started working at McDonald’s in the 80s. He knew he wanted to be a chef at just 13 years old, and in 1990, he moved from Wilmington, CA, to the San Francisco Culinary Academy to study his passion. Ali worked in 32 states throughout his career, including at hotels, restaurants, Swedish bakeries, three major movie studios, and as a private chef for many executives. He also helped a company with its Adopt-a-Ship program to train navy chefs. His passion for food has taken him on a giant journey, allowing him to meet celebrities in Hollywood and sail on a Destroyer for the U.S. Navy. As the CEO of Sustainable Culinary Solutions, Ali is dedicated to transforming struggling entities into industry leaders in a highly competitive landscape. His vast experience and knowledge make him a valuable asset to any organization seeking to modernize its food service while maintaining sustainability.

Custom-built Solutions Offered by Ali and Company

Ali established Sustainable Culinary Solutions in 2019. The company offers various services, including teaching sustainable approaches to food service while being profitable, helping struggling food service managers develop new strategic plans for their operations, and custom-building solutions for every operation case by case. Additionally, Ali has written a book called “The Sustainable Restaurant Plan,” which goes into further detail on how food service managers can implement sustainable practices in their operations.

Ali’s custom-built solutions include creating recipes, menus (with cost breakdowns), production sheets, and employee job descriptions. He also offers to train staff in person, which is beneficial for managers who do not have the time or experience to do it themselves. By offering a tailored approach, Ali aims to help food service operations achieve operational excellence and become industry leaders in a highly competitive landscape.

Relying on Experience to Overcome Challenges

As a leader in the food service industry, Ali faced various challenges throughout his career. One of the most significant challenges he faced was balancing his creative and sustainable approach to food with the demands of corporate managers who wanted him to buy certain ingredients. This often limited his ability to express himself and be creative as a chef. However, Ali stood firm in his beliefs and pushed for a more sustainable and fresh approach to food, even if it went against the corporate managers’ desires.

Another challenge that Ali faced was the absence of human resources in the 90s, which meant fewer employment laws and fewer safeguards for employees. Ali and his coworkers would work 16–18 hour days without taking any breaks, which was not sustainable in the long run. To overcome these challenges, Ali relied on his experience and expertise in the food service industry. He stayed true to his beliefs and pushed for a more sustainable and fresh approach to food, despite the pressures from corporate managers.

Roles and Rewards of the CEO

As the CEO of Sustainable Culinary Solutions, Ali is responsible for making critical executive decisions every day that affect the success of his business. He uses his 35 years of food service experience to assist him in making informed decisions, predicting future outcomes, and understanding the risks associated with any food service-related situation. Ali also serves as a listener and student, always seeking to learn and develop his skills through a variety of different experiences.

As the founder of Sustainable Culinary Solutions, Ali’s responsibilities include developing a strategic plan for his business, managing the day-to-day operations, overseeing the finances, and ensuring the overall success and growth of the company. Additionally, he provides consulting services to help struggling food service managers develop sustainable practices in their operations, including creating recipes, menus, production sheets, and employee job descriptions.

Ali’s greatest accomplishment in his professional career is his ability to listen and learn from a variety of different experiences. He has worked in a range of food service environments, including hotels, restaurants, college campuses, cafes, bakeries, movie studios, and tech companies. Through his journey, he has learned to look at many cultures from the perspective of their food and developed a passion for teaching others.

Bringing Unique Style of Leadership

Ali believes that great leadership and team-building are essential for running a successful organization. He believes that being a good listener and understanding the perspective of his employees are critical to achieving this. To keep his team motivated and productive, Ali implements a quick daily briefing where the entire team can communicate and address daily concerns. He also congratulates accomplished team members who have succeeded in stressful situations.

Ali recommends placing a certification program in every operation to show workers that their work is valued. This can help motivate and inspire employees to continue performing at a high level. He also emphasizes the importance of creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. This can be achieved by recognizing employees for their hard work and celebrating their achievements.

Projects that Make the Work Exciting

The most exciting project that Ali and his team are currently working on is a coffee operation that focuses on sustainability and social responsibility. Ali’s vision for the future of the food industry is one that emphasizes sustainability, health, and social responsibility, and this coffee operation perfectly aligns with that vision. Ali and his team have taken a comprehensive approach to ensure that this coffee operation is sustainable and socially responsible. They have researched and selected energy-efficient equipment, sourced fair-trade beans, and made in-house syrups to avoid ingredients like fructose and aspartame.

Additionally, they have ensured that all food and beverages are free of trans-fat, and they are working towards certification from the city to verify that they meet sustainable standards. Moreover, Ali and his team have also designed and developed other coffee and dining operations that prioritize sustainability, compostability, and fair trade products. These initiatives reflect Ali’s commitment to creating a more sustainable and responsible food industry.

Addressing Sustainability and Food Insecurity Issues

According to Ali, the food industry should play a significant role in addressing societal issues such as sustainability and food insecurity. The industry should focus on educating its customers about sustainable practices and promoting social norms that encourage sustainability. Additionally, the industry should work towards reducing food waste and promoting access to healthy and affordable food. At Sustainable Culinary Solutions, there is a strong focus on sustainability. The team goes above and beyond to check the sustainable programs in particular cities and ensure that they are using compostable and recyclable materials. They also visit their vendors to ensure that they have the same values and a sustainable mission.

Word of Advice Straight from the Pioneer

Ali’s advice for aspiring leaders in the food industry is to focus on building a strong team and creating a culture of learning and growth. He believes that it is important to be a great listener and to understand the perspective of the employees who run the operation every day. Daily briefings can be an effective tool for communication, allowing management to address concerns and congratulate team members who have excelled. Ali recommends implementing certification programs in every operation to show employees that they are valued for their work.

In terms of productivity tips, Ali emphasizes the importance of delegation and time management. As a leader, it is essential to be able to trust your team and delegate tasks accordingly. This allows you to focus on the bigger picture and strategize for the future. Additionally, Ali recommends setting clear goals and deadlines, prioritizing tasks, and avoiding multitasking. He also suggests taking breaks throughout the day to recharge and refocus.

Role of AI in Building the Future

Ali believes that AI will play an important role in the food service industry’s future. He sees AI as a tool that can assist workers and improve efficiency and consistency in food production. In addition, Ali believes that AI can be integrated into various aspects of food operations, such as inventory management, pricing, and human resources. As an advisor, Ali sees his role as helping companies identify the most appropriate AI programs to use in their operations. He states that AI will be a valuable asset to the food service industry and can help companies stay competitive and efficient.


“I always believed in taking a sustainable and culinary approach to my work, even at a young age.”

ALSO READ: “The 10 Most Influential Leaders in the Food Industry, 2023.”


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