A little over a week ago, a person whom I knew, worked with, and admired for more than 40 years, passed away.  I am aware as I grow older this is going to happen, but nevertheless, it hits hard and makes you take inventory of the person you are, what you do, how you do it, how you treat others, and the way you live your life. 

Dick Cattani was a monumental figure in the business of food hospitality.  He grew from a young college graduate with prior experience in the dish room and a commis in front and back of the house, to eventually become CEO and President of Restaurant Associates – one of the country’s most influential benchmark providers of the highest quality food in restaurants, world class entertainment venues, museums, office buildings, and special events.  Dick was a graduate of the same college that I attended, a lifelong supportive alum, and eventually chairman of their board of trustees.  Midway through my career I returned to my alma mater as an instructor and eventually dean of their hospitality and culinary programs.  I worked with Dick who was known as a terrific listener, mentor, and problem solver.  I always felt comfortable asking him for advice – he always made time even though his own schedule was incredibly demanding. 

Whenever I visited New York City with students, or with family, Dick helped arrange for us to meet well known chefs and restaurateurs, visit, tour and dine in incredible benchmark restaurants, tour flagship hotels, and in some cases find kitchen space for our student culinary teams to prepare for competitions.  It was through Dick that we had opportunities to work at the U.S. Open Tennis and PGA Golf Tournaments that RA was contracted to provide foodservice.  For a period of years, we were sending 50 students to work the grueling, yet highly educational two-weeks of the Tennis Open.  To this day, those students rate those two weeks as some of the most important in their education. 

As I reflect on Dick Cattani, the person that I knew, but was not fully aware of the scope of his influence, I fell on a short, concise, and all-encompassing quote from him that was highlighted in the official RA notice of his death: “Work hard and be kind”.  What a wonderful legacy, an enormously important mantra, and an inspirational way to live your life.  From my experience, and apparently those who worked at RA, this is the most essential trait of great leadership.  I want people to say this about me some day: “He always worked hard, strove for excellence, expected nothing less of others, was willing to give back, and treated those with whom he associated, with kindness.” This is something to strive for, this is how Dick lived and how I hope to live as well.

When I look around at the world today, and in particular – our country, I find that a lack of connection to this simple mantra is far too pervasive.  It makes me tired, sad, and concerned.  I am tired of people who think only of themselves and never others.  I am tired of people who build their existence around lies and avoidance of the truth.  I am tired of those who seek to discount or demean others, tired of those who feel a sense of superiority and are full of their own sense of importance.  I am tired and deeply concerned about the proliferation of hate and a deficit of kindness and acceptance.  I am tired of those who would prefer to let others do the work while they receive the benefits of that work.  I am tired of those who are satisfied with mediocrity and see little value in striving for excellence.  I am tired of employers who treat their staff as expendable pawns on the table.  I am tired of those who point fingers at others and never accept responsibility. 

Dick was not the type of leader who would relinquish responsibility or point the finger at others.  He had extremely high standards and did expect nothing less from those who worked with and for him.  He did, however, believe in support, training, mentoring, and empathy.  He measured people on performance while admiring them for their character.  I wish that this was more contagious than it appears to be.  We need more like Dick: teachers, advocates, inquisitive and creative people, honest and hardworking, focused and kind. 

The world will miss you, Dick.  Rest in Peace.


Work hard and be kind

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG

CAFÉ Talk Podcast