As a teenager, Varun Kakar couldn't have imagined a part-time job he held in high school would be the first building block in his career.
"Originally I wanted to go into engineering or dentistry," says Kakar, who was recently named director of dining services at Highland Springs, an Erickson Living-managed community in North Dallas. "My perspective changed as I gained more real-life work experience."
Erickson Living-managed communities employ high school and collegiate servers in their on-site dining rooms, an ideal first job that proved to be the springboard to Kakar's career.
"I started at Fox Run [the Erickson-managed community in Novi, Mich.] as a server during my junior year of high school," says Kakar. "I was on the waitstaff there for nearly two years."
Moving up at Fox Run
Fox Run, like other Erickson-managed communities, maintains a Scholars' Fund, supported by residents to provide scholarship money for eligible student waitstaff to pursue postsecondary studies. Kakar was a student scholar recipient at Fox Run and enrolled at the University of Michigan.
"I continued to work part-time at Fox Run while I was in college, first as a service coach and then in catering services," says Kakar. "After nearly two years in catering, one of my managers suggested I apply for a supervisor position in one of Fox Run's restaurants. From there, I became an assistant manager in dining services."
After seven and a half years at Fox Run, Kakar learned of an opening for a general manager at Maris Grove, the Erickson Living-managed community in Glen Mills, Pa.
"I knew it was a great opportunity and decided to go for it," says Kakar. "All this time, I was learning and growing within the company. While I was at Fox Run, the corporate dining team visited the community for the rollout of our Signature Dining program. I loved the idea of making an impact that would positively affect the whole company. That's when I realized I wanted to go the business route in my career."
The Signature Dining experience is an enterprisewide initiative offering a variety of fresh menu options, executed at the moment of service, and presented in distinctive dining venues. Menus combine familiar favorites and regional specialties, as well as weekly chef specials and seasonal dishes, all cooked to order and served to the guest's specifications.
"When we rolled out the Signature Dining program, I loved the satisfaction of being part of a change that impacted our residents for the better," says Kakar.
In October 2018, Kakar joined the corporate dining services team as a traveling general manager, visiting Erickson Living communities across the country to support and offer assistance as needed.
"That role gave me the perspective of Erickson Living as an enterprise, not just a community-specific operation," says Kakar, who spent time at 14 communities in that role. "I loved supporting dining service teams across the company."
One of the communities Kakar visited was Highland Springs, where he filled in temporarily as director of dining services.
"I wasn't expecting to apply or be considered for the role permanently," says Kakar. "I saw how the staff consistently goes above and beyond for residents, and I felt the hospitality here."
Setting the bar at Highland Springs
Kakar applied for the role of director of dining services in August 2019, and his first day on the job was September 8, 2019.
"These are exciting times in dining services at Highland Springs," says Kakar. "This was the first community to roll out the Signature Dining program, and they continue to set the bar. The concept for our newest dining venue, the White Rock Bistro, is beautiful, and guests can expect even more options and variety when it opens later this year."
Asked about goals for his new role, Kakar says it comes down to every guest, every meal, every interaction.
"Hospitality, service, and food go hand in hand," he says. "We want our guests to have a 'wow' dining experience every single time."