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FLIK Hospitality CEO Scott Davis ’80 Leads by Example

Scott Davis ’80 didn’t need a stint in Paris to cement his obsessions with food and hospitality, but it definitely didn’t hurt. His six months cooking in France soon after graduation forever colored the way he sees the connection between eating and quality human contact. 

“The French at the time spent 50 percent of their disposable income on food, the largest component of any industrialized country,” Davis says. “They weren’t very big on grocery stores. They would shop daily in the markets. The quality was much higher. You got food at its peak and in seasonal condition. Your budget was your budget, but you went to the bread guy, the pastry guy, the poultry guy, the beef guy.”

He wistfully recalls the days when chefs would dump over the trash in their kitchens to audit what their cooks were throwing out. Waste is just one downstream consequence, he suspects, of American agriculture becoming experts at producing so much food so cheaply. “Sometimes efficiency is an enemy, not an attribute,” he says. 

Now as the CEO of FLIK Hospitality Group, which operates hospitality services for private schools, corporate dining, conference, reception and AV services for 800 clients in 43 states, Davis brings that high degree of care to every person — and, to the extent such a thing could be possible, every trace of food — he oversees. The challenges are obvious at a company so large, but he strives for zero waste. One of his earliest moves at FLIK was to ditch all use of styrofoam, and more recently he has worked to get FLIK leftovers to food banks and shelters around New York. From this experience, Davis was asked to serve on the board of Hunger Related Events (HRE), which raises money for charities supporting food insecurity and facilitates Taste of the NFL, a Super Bowl charity food event featuring chefs and players from each NFL city. During this pandemic, FLIK associates and their clients have also prepared food for shelters, food banks and other agencies in need.

FLIK Hospitality CEO Scott Davis ’80
Scott Davis ’80

Since his teenage years Davis worked in kitchens, and loved how it introduced him to people from every walk of life. Attending Johnson & Wales in Providence, where he studied Hotel and Restaurant Hospitality, was a way to stay close to home while learning, as he puts it now, to take care of people.

Today, three decades into his career at FLIK, he relies on his alma mater for a pipeline of talent. For the past dozen years, he and his fellow executives have held a dinner with prospective hires from Johnson & Wales, inviting about 20 of them on a group interview over a big meal. Among the 200-plus students they’ve hired from those dinners several have risen to become executives at FLIK. Harry Dorofee ’07 began as a sous chef and now directs Rapport, FLIK’s national provider for conference and reception services. Nutrition Director Tracy Wilczek ’04 leads health and wellness initiatives at Fidelity Investments, which are often benchmarked as the industry’s gold standard. 

How does he identify the best hospitality hires? “You can see a sparkle in people’s eye,” he says. “They really just like working with people and taking care of guests. It’s an intrinsic value people have. Turnover is very, very low when these students join us. And I take a personal interest in them.”

At Johnson & Wales, the classrooms seemed to be salt-and-peppered with this entrepreneurial mindset Arnell Milhouse ’92

Arnell Milhouse ’92 Cracks the Startup Code

Claude Arnell Milhouse ’92 learned early on not to fall in love with solutions, but instead to embrace problems. As a student, he worked in the Johnson & Wales academic computing department during an era that sounds almost primitive now. They had no modern network linking their computers. Formatting the hard drives was a tedious process done by hand, disc by disc. So Milhouse spent a Thanksgiving break writing a program that would run software updates via a cable, reducing a week and a half of work into a single day.

Putting himself close enough to a problem for which he could devise a solution was his leap into intrapreneurship — innovating within an existing organization — and set him on the way to becoming an entrepreneur. By his sophomore year studying Computer Systems Management and Business Management, Milhouse was working for IBM as a Campus Technology & Sales Representative, and during his career he continued to identify problems and to follow the imperative a professor drilled into him: to “humanize” technology.

“At Johnson & Wales, the classrooms seemed to be salt-and-peppered with this entrepreneurial mindset,” Milhouse says. “It wasn’t just words on the page and taking tests. The professors made it so real-world. I was inspired to go into work environments to be an employee who could impact the company in a measurable manner.”

Claude Arnell Milhouse ’92
Arnell Milhouse ’92

Milhouse has been working toward measurable impacts ever since. He recently finished a stint as Entrepreneur in Residence at Brown University’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, where he embraced the idea of looking for problems at scale — finding unmet needs that millions of people share — as he mentored and advised startups.

That capped an innovative several years for him. In 2014 he founded a nonprofit called IntraCity Geeks, bringing classes on coding and web development to middle and high school students in Providence. He followed that in 2017 by launching CareerDevs Computer Science University, which teaches tech skills to anyone who wants to enroll, with the aim of getting them jobs after compressing the training of a four-year degree into a single year. 

Even when he’s just playing, he aims to inspire. In 2016, he organized a Providence “hackathon,” HackPVD, where he and a group of amateur radio aficionados rigged an antenna and a hand transceiver to reach out to the International Space Station as it passed over Rhode Island. That’s all for kicks, sure. But who knows what will ripple out into Providence at large when you aim for a space station streaking 250 miles above? The state, Johnson & Wales included, is part of what Milhouse has dubbed Silicon Rhode — a region that’s rediscovering its long history of finding the next new thing in technology.

“One of the keys for any entrepreneur is to widen your perspective,” Milhouse says. “You want to be able to pick a few domains in which you have slightly more than a curious level of expertise. That creates and fosters this primordial soup of innovation that ultimately creates an explosive series of thoughts.”

Lisa Herligner ’01 Scoops the Artisan Ice Cream Sandwich Market

Imagine wandering around the stalls of a Portland, Oregon farmer’s market in the early 2000s when chefs were really starting to source food directly from local farmers. Lisa Herlinger ’01, fresh out of culinary school, saw possibilities in the wares: lavender, honey, fresh-roasted coffee, mint, berries. Her day job at a breakfast restaurant got her access to a kitchen. After hours she tinkered with creme anglaise and various flavors to prep for the one day a week when she sold handmade ice cream sandwiches from a cooler at her own stall. She knew the long days were paying off when strangers flocked. “It’s one thing to start a food company and friends and family tell you it’s good,” Herlinger says. “But when people I didn’t know were coming back, that was super validating.”

When Herlinger followed her passion to pursue Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales’ then-new Denver campus, she had no idea that she would start an ice cream company that would later garner kudos from The Food Network and Oprah’s magazine. As the founder of Ruby Jewel, Herlinger credits the university’s experiential approach with helping her build a commercial kitchen that launched her business. The pastry program inspired my creativity and helped me develop a love for unique flavors, which is what has set us apart in the frozen novelty world, she adds.

Over the past 15 years, food culture has largely caught up with Ruby Jewel. People want clean, simple ingredients that are locally sourced — even when they’re reaching into a freezer case for an ice cream novelty. Selling them on lemon cookie with honey lavender ice cream is the easy part. The tougher challenge for Herlinger as Ruby Jewel has scaled up is tracking the source of all her ingredients and keeping the product uniform. “You have no idea how hard it is to make a consistent 1-ounce cookie,” she says. “You can give the same recipe to different bakers and get so many things.”

Lisa Herligner ’01
Lisa Herligner ’01

Ruby Jewel now supplies small-batch sandwiches to area grocers. She also sells directly from three ice cream sandwich shops and mobile ice cream carts Portlanders find at Trail Blazers games and the Oregon Zoo. In one of the shops, Herlinger maintains a test kitchen where she develops new flavors — such as a bespoke sandwich, with sweet cherry ice cream on chocolate cookies that she invented for a local burger chain.

In the beginning, Ruby Jewel’s commitment to sourcing locally made it a regional gem in the Pacific Northwest. “I would get so many emails, every week, like ‘I just discovered your product at a gas station and you’ve turned into my favorite ice cream sandwich,’ with a picture of a guy’s tattooed hand eating the sandwich,” Herlinger says. “Or, ‘Your ice cream was the best part of our Portland trip — where can I get it in California?’ Those are the stories that get me excited about growing.”

And now the rest of us can taste-test Ruby Jewel. The company recently expanded its sandwiches to groceries and convenience stores nationwide. Unsurprisingly, it leads the frozen novelty category for velocity — at a time when comfort food sounds (and can feel) medicinal.