T-shirt design firm feeds employees breakfast and lunch

Company: CustomInk.

Location: Tysons Corner.

Employees: 462 nationwide.

If Allyson Ayers dashes out of the house on a Monday morning without eating breakfast, she knows she’s got nothing to worry about.

When she arrives at her office at CustomInk, a free meal will be waiting for her. The T-shirt design and printing company starts each week by providing a breakfast spread for its employees. Sometimes it consists of basics such as bagels, cereal and fruit, and other times the company hires caterers to whip up quiches, breakfast burritos or pancakes.

“The company just keeps us very well fed,” said Ayers, the firm’s e-mail marketing coordinator.

In addition to the Monday breakfasts, CustomInk has “free lunch Fridays,” a tradition that began about 10 years ago. The company was much smaller then, consisting of 20 to 30 workers, and the order was almost always pizza.

“It was a nice way to get everyone up from their desks and kind of milling around,” said Marc Katz, CustomInk’s chief executive.

Today, it’s a more elaborate affair, with hundreds of workers rotating through the dining area by department to make sure all of them don’t crowd in at once.

And they aim to keep the meals inclusive by providing special options for those with dietary restrictions.

CustomInk also orders shipments two to three times a week from The FruitGuys, a fresh produce delivery service.

When the cartons of apples, oranges, pears and other fruit arrive, “It’s almost like word of mouth,” Ayers said. “It’s like one person’s walking around with a banana, and everyone else knows” it’s time to descend on the cafeteria for a snack.

For those who prefer to make their own lunches, CustomInk’s outdoor patio is equipped with four gas grills. Employees have cooked everything from typical barbecue fare such as burgers, steaks, and kabobs, to more experimental dishes such as pineapple with brown sugar.

Departments or teams have to sign up ahead of time to use them, so Ayers said that manning the grill typically turns into “a team-bonding event.”

This abundance of free snack and meal options, Katz said , is just “one piece of the puzzle of trying to create a really nice work environment for people.”

Sarah Halzack is a reporter and Web editor for Capital Business. She covers the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She occasionally writes for other sections at the Post, most frequently in the form of dance reviews, dance features, book reviews and obituaries.
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