Raul Delgado resigned as General Manager of Bon Appétit on March 10 after 13 years managing Anderson Commons and Sam’s Cafe. An email from the Department of Auxiliary Services on Feb. 7 informed students and faculty about the resignation and thanked Delgado for “leading his teams as if he was a Wheaton College employee directing one of our departments, rather than as a contractor.”
Before he departed the College, Delgado — who for many students was synonymous with Anderson Commons — sat down with The Record to talk about his experiences.
Delgado’s passion for food began in his grandmother’s kitchen as a boy. “The first thing I learned to cook was my uncle’s amazing egg rolls,” said Delgado. “He showed me how to take these flat egg roll sheets, make the filling, put it inside, then fold and fry the roll. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it!’”
Delgado’s first job in the kitchen came when he was a high school senior, at a since-closed restaurant in the south Chicago suburbs. Despite being thrown into a professional kitchen as a teenager, Delgado gained invaluable multitasking skills and refined his culinary instincts, traits that would help him lead Wheaton’s cafeteria.
“When you’re training, they show you how to make this dish and that dish,” said Delgado. “But it’s another thing when all the tickets are coming in and you have to make five or six at once. I remember getting what we call ‘in the weeds,’ burning a dish because it was on too long with so many things going on. That’s when I learned that good cooks don’t think. When you know the recipe, you don’t cook with your head, you cook with your hands.”
Prior to assuming his role with Bon Appétit, Delgado worked as vice president of another food service company in Kentucky, where he and his wife rented a house while building their dream home. Shortly after the birth of his first child, however, Delgado’s wife passed away unexpectedly.
“That dramatically changes your life,” said Delgado.
As a single father, Delgado’s vocational priorities shifted to better support his daughter. Between a lengthy work commute and long work hours, it was difficult for Delgado to spend time with his daughter, Gabriella.
“I realized with the job I had, I was missing everything with my daughter,” said Delgado. “I was having a nanny raise her, and that really wasn’t okay with me. As I looked for a different job, it wasn’t even the role that was important to me at that point. The most important things were to be at a place where I could be a great dad and be at a place that I could be proud of.”
Delgado moved to Wheaton to be closer to his sister. In 2009, he took his position with Bon Appétit at Wheaton College, where he could live five minutes from campus and spend more time with his daughter.
“In many ways, it was just God leading me,” said Delgado. “I loved the fact that I could work at a Christian college.”
Delgado quickly gelled with the Wheaton staff. Omar Rocha, the executive chef with Bon Appétit, worked with Delgado throughout his 13 year tenure. During that time, Rocha has been grateful for Delgado’s support, especially when Rocha was asked to take on additional responsibilities as head of the catering department.
“Catering was a big thing to take care of, but Raul was always there helping,” said Rocha. “Anything I needed, he had my back. If I told Raul I needed some help here, I had help.”
Delgado supported his staff both professionally and personally, making sure they could balance their work life and home life.
“Raul always said that family comes first,” said Rocha. “He always put family — for the cooks, the dishwashers, whoever — first. To him, if you had something wrong with your family and you needed to take care of it, he would say ‘Okay, go take care of your family.’”
According to Auxiliary Services Director Tony Dawson, who watched Delgado direct Wheaton’s Bon Appétit team over the years, Delgado’s care extended to every member of his team. “Whether you were the executive chef or the dish room person, he gave you the same level of care, regard and leadership,” said Dawson. When dishroom worker Simeon Nyandwi was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2020, Delgado made a GoFundMe page to contribute to his medical expenses. Nyandwi passed away in January 2021, and Delgado continued raising funds for his funeral.
Delgado said adjusting to COVID-19 presented the most difficult challenge during his 13 years at Wheaton. When the pandemic hit and students left campus, he had to lay off 95 percent of his staff without notice. “Sitting down with people who rely on this job for their family and telling them that you have to lay them off is incredibly difficult,” Delgado said.
When students returned to campus in fall of 2020, Delgado was able to rehire much of his staff, but the team faced new challenges. Delgado and his staff redesigned Wheaton’s food service, setting up socially distanced lines, plexiglass-divided tables and a slimmed-down menu of to-go meals and pre-packaging salads, sides and desserts. “In many ways we had to reinvent how we did food service,” said Delgado. In the 2021-2022 school year, Delgado also managed labor shortages and COVID-related supply chain failures.
Dawson remembers Delgado’s leadership during the 2020-21 school year. “He would always say, ‘It wasn’t me; it was my team,’” said Dawson. “Regardless, he was a superstar. It was incredible what he pulled off.”
Before and during the pandemic, Delgado not only oversaw logistics but was also involved in the food production itself. He regularly walked the lines in the Anderson Commons kitchens, trying different recipes and discussing new dishes with staff.
“Raul is a person with a taste for food,” said Rocha. “A good general manager is one that can taste food and say, ‘That plate needs a little bit of salt’ or ‘Chef, can you fix this?’ He was always very polite.”
Delgado cared about the quality of the food his team created. “Ever since I was little, I’ve been a really quality-driven person — I’m almost obsessed with it,” said Delgado. “I try the food every single day.”
Dawson believes that Delgado’s legacy of leadership will continue to propel the Bon Appétit team to success even in his absence. “People are the core of anything that you do,” said Dawson. “Because Raul is so strong at hiring, developing, training, and leading teams, there is a strong core Bon Appétit team here. I don’t have to be concerned that Raul is leaving and panic about what we are going to do now.” Bon Appétit has installed Steve Toliver as Interim General Manager while they search for Delgado’s replacement.
Delgado remained humble, expressing the same confidence in the Bon Appétit staff he is leaving. “The thing that makes me the most proud is our team,” said Delgado. “When I announced my retirement, a lot of people were thanking me, and I feel that in a lot of ways I’m undeserving. At the end of the day, it’s the dishwashers, the pot washers, the chefs and the cooks who really do this job. They deserve all the credit for what we do.”
Now that his daughter is in college, Delgado feels he has the flexibility to change careers. In 2019, Delgado earned his real estate license. He is now pursuing a career in real estate in the Chicago area as a broker with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Delgado started working in real estate part-time during the pandemic, partnering with a former mentor.
Although his new job looks different from food service, Delgado said his motivations haven’t changed. “It’s all about serving people; you’re just doing it differently. Quite often a home is the most important purchase of someone’s life. I love being part of that, just like I love being part of this college’s food program in service to Wheaton’s overall mission.”
While he is looking forward to a new challenge, Delgado is grateful for his time at Wheaton. “I take great memories from this place and am a better person for being involved in it,” he said.