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Meet Dale Diasparra, the "Un"-leader of Food Services at Craig Hospital

February 13, 2020

The Food Services team at Craig Hospital knows how to deliver food and have fun doing it. That’s because they don’t hold to industry standards — they rise above them. If you are lucky enough to be one of the 55 Food Services team members, you know firsthand that working at Craig is different and lots of fun. Take the summer team luau last year, complete with a water balloon toss that turned into a water balloon fight. Or the annual Halloween celebration where team members submit cafeteria decoration ideas, vote on the best one and pitch in to carry it out.

“Last year the theme of Marvel comics won. We decorated the entire cafeteria as a comic book store. Everyone was a different character. They made life-size posters of their characters to put in front of their stations,” Dale Diasparra, Food Services Director, says. “We are always having fun like that. Our team is a fantastic group of people.”

Halloween in Food Services at Craig Hospital

The fun, respect and fostering of individual ideas extend to patients. Staff members learn what patients like and make sure it lands on their tray or is available when they or a family member visits the cafeteria or one of the bistros. If a patient requests a special item, it gets included in the offerings. Most recently, the team added a variety of bottled drinks and kombucha. Next up might be sushi.

“The team really bonds with patients and family members. They joke around with them and do whatever it takes to help them have a good day,” Dale says. “Our patients work hard, and having a meal might be the best part of the day, so we want to make sure we get it right.”

Dale Diasparra at work at Craig Hospital

What makes the Craig Food Services team so creative and rewarding to work for? If you ask a team member, many of them would likely bring up Dale’s name. Dale has been a part of the Craig Food Services team for 28 years. With a degree in hospitality, he started as a cafeteria supervisor and became a director three years ago. He played a key role in creating what he calls dynamic management teams — eight teams, each with their own manager, who are empowered to run their team as they see fit. This team approach to management fits in perfectly with Dale’s philosophy that empowered employees are happy employees. Management is always asking for ideas and encouraging employees to come up with different methods and food options.

“Team members have a hand in writing their own job descriptions. Why not? They know best what’s going on because they’re in the trenches,” Dale says.

It’s hard to get Dale to talk about himself. He says that it’s not about him, but he’s really at the core of why the Food Services staff are so successful and happy in their jobs.

“It’s truly not about me. I try to bring energy and excitement to the group, but the team is just great. They are genuine, compassionate people who live by the cultural covenants of the hospital,” Dale adds.

Dale calls the Food Services team a family. It’s no surprise he has a close family himself. He and his wife, Deb, have been married 35 years. They live in Lakewood with their two children, Gina and Chris, nearby.

Craig Hospital Ice Fishing Trip

Dale’s favorite hobby is ice fishing. Fourteen years ago, he started the ice fishing program at Craig in conjunction with Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation Department. He organizes these fishing trips for patients twice a year. This year, a trip was held January 18 at their favorite spot, Lake Granby. Close to 30 patients, family and staff stuck their lines in a hole in the ice, got bites and then watched the fish they missed swim away on sonars.

“We didn’t have luck but we still had a lot of fun,” Dale says.

He recalls a favorite ice fishing memory: a patient many years ago who was a high quad and used a sip and puff chair to move told his wife he didn’t want to live any longer. Dale convinced him to go ice fishing. About 15 minutes in, the young man said he had a bite. Dale said, “I’ll be right there; start sucking!”

“He brought in a good-sized lake trout. After he regained his breath, he broke down in tears. That day he told us that we saved his life. Moments like that are the best part of my job. It makes all our efforts worth it,” Dale says.

See what a Craig ice fishing trip looks like.