At JSI’s Arlington office, an international twist on Thanksgiving

December 1, 2013

Company: John Snow.

Location: Arlington.

Employees: 281 locally; 2,500 worldwide.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the lunch hour stretches a bit long at the Arlington outpost of public health consulting firm John Snow.

That’s because some 300 people — employees, as well as consultants and contractors — convene for a massive holiday feast that requires some serious logistical planning.

The 15th floor of the company’s Rosslyn office is dedicated to appetizers, the 16th floor is dedicated to turkey and side dishes, and the 9th floor is for desserts. Designated floor captains work to keep the foot traffic moving among all the stations.

While the meal does include Thanksgiving staples such as cranberry sauce and stuffing, the company aims to put an international spin on the event by asking staffers to bring in a dish from their home country. With employees from 46 countries working out of the Arlington office, they always end up with a diverse mix of cuisines.

“From Ethiopian green beans to pupusas to Asian foods, even grandma’s mashed potatoes ... it’s a wonderful way to watch how we can embrace everybody’s culture,” said Kim Bebout, an office manager.

Also, Bebout said that many of these foreign-born employees have never experienced an American Thanksgiving meal, and so the event becomes a fun way to introduce them to the tradition.

To heat up their dishes, staffers make sure to stake out time at one of the 16 microwaves spread across the office’s eight small kitchens. One dish that doesn’t have to get cooked on site? The six turkeys that are served as the main course. Bill Felling, the firm’s chief technology officer, always picks them up from a nearby Giant grocery store, where they come fresh from the oven. The birds, along with the drinks, are paid for by the company.

If there are leftovers, staffers haul them over to a kitchen in Arlington that feeds the homeless.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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