Chef Fabio Viviani and Johnsonville Sausage Team Up For 'Dinner Is Served'
When a fire destroyed Johnsonville Sausage’s production plant in Watertown, Wis., in May 2015, the company was faced with some challenging decisions. As the following year was spent rebuilding the plant, Johnsonville kept their 150-plus employees—or members—on the payroll and maintained their benefits in return for volunteering in the community and attending classes to enhance their work skills. Embodying “The Johnsonville Way,” company management and employees teamed up like family to overcome adversity.
To celebrate the Watertown comeback and thank their members, Johnsonville enlisted celebrity chef Fabio Viviani as a partner to prepare a gourmet dinner, support a local football team and to give a Johnsonville member the opportunity to train with Viviani at his Los Angeles restaurant. The efforts are documented in the three-part narrative web series “Dinner Is Served” (johnsonville.com/dinnerisserved).
“We had been wondering for a while on how we would celebrate the great work that members did starting a new plant,” recalled Dana Presley, the Johnsonville plant manager featured in the series. “We had talked about doing a dinner for the members, and we started working with our members in marketing. They came up with the idea to use an Italian chef. Once we had the thought of using an Italian chef, the whole idea started to come together for the surprise.”
Each of the three episodes is less than six minutes long. “Watertown Surprise” highlights the initial rebuilding efforts and the gourmet appreciation dinner. In “Football Surprise,” two Johnsonville members—an uncle and his nephew on the Jefferson County Chargers football team—received word that Johnsonville had a surprise for the athletes, as well as a pasta and sausage meal prepared by Viviani. “L.A. Surprise” documents Johnsonville team leader Garrid Neitzel’s training with Viviani at his restaurant.
Neitzel was chosen because he best represents some of the values that Johnsonville has, Presley said. As a young leader in the plant, he has always taken ownership when opportunities arise and has shown concern for his team members and dedication to caring for his family. Neitzel had always liked to cook, particularly Italian food. “That first day I met him, it was like we had known each other for years. He’s a great guy and an even better chef. Training with a world-renowned chef is something I never, ever thought I would do. The whole experience was memorable and something that I can carry forever.”
Viviani was also inspired by the experience. “I’ve been a part of many projects, but the “Dinner Is Served” project is a one-of-a-kind project that I have the honor to be a part of,” he stated. “Seeing how the community came together to help rebuild the facility was really moving.” “Dinner Is Served” also includes four cooking videos demonstrating the featured recipes, all made with Johnsonville’s Italian sausage. “I took four of my favorite Italian recipes that are simple, traditional and comforting recipes and added a Johnsonville twist. To me, the dishes capture the sense of family togetherness that Johnsonville represents,” Viviani stated.
Viviani added that, throughout the experience, he met some great people and made new friends along the way. “Showing that we are both investing in our community and our members shows that the company is living up to one of our main principles of loving our neighbors,” Presley remarked.