Joe Wellman’s first exposure to foodservice was in an Air Force field kitchen during Operation Desert Storm.
Wellman had been working in lodging operations at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana when he was deployed to Egypt. After he arrived, he began working in the kitchen that fed military personnel who refueled aircraft flying to destinations throughout the Middle East.
“When we arrived there, nobody had baking experience,” says Wellman, who volunteered for the task. “It was rough going for a while, but I adapted pretty quick.”
Since then, Wellman spent most of his 28-year military career in foodservice arena as an enlisted member and an officer. When he retired last year from the Air Force, he was senior director of foodservice operations for U.S. Central Command. Today, he works in talent acquisition for Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, where he develops military and veteran initiatives.
“There’s a huge need for talent within our industry,” he says. Veterans have strong leadership skills and experiences in a several professions that fit well within the restaurant industry. In addition to foodservice, hospitality and supply chain opportunities, the industry also offers careers in food safety, human resources, IT and other professions, he points out.
“We have to inform veterans coming out of the military and let them know what the restaurant industry has to offer,” he says. “They might not think about the possibilities in the restaurant industry as they transition out of the military.”
For restaurateurs, veterans represent a candidate pool that understands how to take care of people and a company’s mission. Those job candidates often have had a high level of responsibility at a young age. As a result, veterans have skills that can greatly benefit restaurateurs, he says.
When Wellman retired from the military, he wanted to continue working in foodservice. He was interested in exploring opportunities for large restaurant companies, so he targeted those where he wanted to work. Bloomin’ Brands offered an opportunity to develop strategies to support the military community and veterans.
Wellman had already been impressed with the company because of its philanthropic initiatives that support the military and veterans.
“I thought, ‘That’s a company I would really love to be a part of.’ ”