It would be fitting for John Robertson, owner of an eatery featuring delights such as the Earth Angel Salad and the Basket of Sexy Egg Sandwiches, to add an eye-catching title to his business card. “Millennial Keeper” and “Outsourced Chief Culture Officer” are both fitting descriptions of a business owner who entices prospective corporate catering customers of this unique spot – the Sexy Salad in Hauppauge – with an offer that’s hard to resist: “Let me use my art to help your business.”

A long-time member of HIA-LI, Robertson recently welcomed CMM Managing Partner and HIA-LI Board Chairman Joe Campolo to the Sexy Salad’s newly expanded space on Adams Avenue in the heart of the Hauppauge Industrial Park (HIP) for a tour and discussion about the ways forward-thinking companies use catering to attract and retain top talent.

In the nearly 15 years since Robertson first opened his doors, the Sexy Salad has morphed from a hip lunch spot (which it remains today) to part of the solution for local businesses seeking to appeal to talent in the face of changing employee preferences and expectations. Reflecting on the common narrative that Long Island is hemorrhaging its young people who leave for the city or elsewhere, Robertson said that instead of fueling this “hysteria” over millennials, employers need to become part of the solution to keep our ambitious young people here. How? A critical step is to become an employer of choice by taking care of employees with food.

Robertson’s focus has therefore shifted from how to get hungry office workers in the door for lunch (though they are still welcomed with delicious food and terrific service) to expanding his catering services as a tool for Long Island businesses to keep their best and brightest workers happy and productive. Robertson knows this idea works because it’s how he’s grown his own business over the years with very little turnover. Each employee enjoys free lunch every day, despite ever-increasing costs. He hosts a summer barbecue for staff with a grab bag of gifts employees actually want. He sends new employees home with dinner for their families on Day 1. “Food is such an effective way to convey your appreciation,” Robertson said. “It’s a great way to take care of employees who work hard.”

Fellow business owner Campolo, who is in the trenches with Long Island’s business community every day and is working to modernize the HIP – the second largest industrial park in the nation after Silicon Valley – pointed to the gourmet cafeterias now commonplace in West Coast offices. When there’s high quality food in the office for the taking, employees not only feel valued, but they also save time – which means more productivity for employers. Robertson agreed that these non-monetary benefits are now critical to employee retention: “Food can be viewed as an expense, but forward-thinking companies use it as a tool, a benefit, an incentive.”

Robertson has always been an entrepreneur, selling lemonade to motorists waiting on line in his neighborhood during the 1970s gas crisis. He explained that he “worked a lot for a little in hopes of eventually working a little for a lot,” toiling away in hotels, NYC executive dining rooms, and food service companies before opening the Sexy Salad in 2003. Last year, he took advantage of the opportunity to double his footprint when the neighboring space opened up, creating Build a Burger adjoining his well-known eatery. His current involvement with the prestigious Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program has encouraged him to think even bigger, giving him the opportunity to get “re-motivated” to keep growing.

The Sexy Salad has already grown into a critical role helping successful Long Island businesses attract and retain employees in the most delicious way possible. Think about that the next time you sample a Sexy Salad Platter.

John Robertson, owner of the Sexy Salad on Adams Avenue in Hauppauge, recently welcomed CMM Managing Partner Joe Campolo for a tour and discussion about the ways forward-thinking companies utilize catering to attract and retain top talent. Next photo: Robertson takes great pride in the quality ingredients and exceptional service that are hallmarks of the Sexy Salad experience.

After the lunch rush! Next photo: Salad not your thing? There’s still plenty to choose from at the Sexy Salad.

No regular omelets here (“sexy” omelets are offered for breakfast). Next photo: Food for thought. How does your company boost employee morale?

The unique Sexy Salad logo adorns everything at the eatery from the cups to this wall clock. Next photo: Robertson opened the Sexy Salad in the heart of the Hauppauge Industrial Park in 2003. Last year, he seized on the opportunity to expand when the neighboring space became available, opening an adjoining Build a Burger and doubling his space.

A look at the seating area in the Build a Burger section. Next photo: Campolo and Robertson both credit HIA-LI with being a major driver of business.

Robertson is a longtime supporter of HIA-LI.