Hospitality is... fueling hope
On top of mountains and miles underground, at work and at school, Allan Fernandes is keeping you safe
In movies and press about the Chilean mine collapse of 2010, which trapped 33 men underground for more than two months, you won’t see Allan Fernandes mentioned. He did not drill the escape tunnel that ultimately led to a Blockbuster-worthy rescue. He is not among the family members who spent weeks praying for a miracle. And he wasn’t even in the Atacama Desert at the time of the crisis. And yet, more than 4,000 miles away in Philadelphia, the Blue Hen played an invisible role in the survival of the victims.
As vice president of global safety and risk control for the behemoth ARAMARK corporation, Fernandes ensures the safety of billions of meals served around the globe every year—in national parks, prisons, resorts, hospitals, universities (including UD!), stadiums, even 100 houseboats floating on Lake Powell. He also ensures the safety of the global workforce—240,000 people strong—as they serve food everywhere from the top of the Andes Mountains to the fjords of Patagonia.
“One major incident could ruin the company,” says Fernandes, EOE92M. “So the risks are huge, but the diversity and excitement are fascinating.”
Among the people ARAMARK feeds are copper and gold miners who work miles below the surface of the Earth in northern Chile, where active volcanoes exist alongside flamingo preserves. So, when a century-old mine in a less remote area of the country collapsed, and its workers were discovered alive 17 days later, the nonprofit Chilean Safety Association enlisted the hospitality company’s help.
Reporting to Fernandes, ARMARK’s Chilean team liaised with doctors and nutritionists to meet the needs of the 33 men, who’d each subsisted on nothing but two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a few sips of milk once every 48 hours. Working out of a nearby hospital, cooks daily prepared breakfast, lunch, dinner and even afternoon tea. Soup, rice and—when the miners were well enough to stomach it—barbequed steaks were packaged into plastic tubes and sent 2,300-feet underground through a drilled hole the size of a grapefruit. This continued for weeks until, 68 days into the disaster, the men emerged from a rescue shaft.
The kudos to ARAMARK poured in, with then-President Barack Obama shouting out the company from the White House. But no expression of gratitude felt more meaningful than the one from the miners themselves. While still trapped underground, they sent a note through the rock to the hospitality crew: “Imagine how we feel when people we don’t know show us so much love,” it read. “You humbly stay with us.”
Since this event, Fernandes has coped with other global crises, including COVID-19—his team in a Wuhan hospital served the first of the pandemic’s patients—and the ongoing outbreak of monkeypox. These realities have meant shoring up the company’s supply chain and safety protocols, in the midst of great uncertainty. But when the pressure feels big, the Blue Hen insists, the rewards are bigger.
“I have the best job,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re a C-suite executive or a dishwasher—you have someone to go home to. It is my responsibility to make sure you get there.”