Founders




Always wearing a few different hats, Special Chefs' founders—James D. Vail and Sylvia I. Landy—also spearhead all aspects of Mainstay, Inc. Their groundbreaking Co-Catalyze wellness model and My25 better nutrition program simultaneously drive sustainable, improving health and beneficial cost outcomes for organizations and their stakeholders.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services invited Sylvia and Jim to meet with her leadership team to provide an overview of their work because of demonstrated outcomes diminishing obesity and diabetes rates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Additionally, Sylvia and Jim were asked by Illinois legislators to draft guidelines—which have since been enacted into law—regarding better health benchmarks for select populations within the state. Mainstay’s founders were highlighted in Kellogg World’s cover story, “The Impact of Success,” because of their leadership role in reducing organizational expenses while stakeholder wellness improves.

Their book, Big, Fat Eureka: How Corporate Wellness Can Finally Decimate Our Costly Obesity Habit, was published in spring, 2012 and is available on Amazon.

Over ten years ago, Sylvia and Jim co-founded Special Chefs as a way to support and celebrate the burgeoning cooking skills and health of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through their pioneering work and dedication to decimating obesity and diabetes, they are focused on Special Chefs’ initiatives supporting the innovative inroads Mainstay, and others, have made throughout the nation.

James D. Vail, Special Chefs Co-Founder and Mainstay’s President and CEO, holds his MBA from top-ranked Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and his B.A. from Davidson College. He has demonstrated unique and highly regarded outcomes in both social service and traditional corporate settings. After selling his first successful start-up venture, Jim was persuaded to assume the CEO position for a prominent, thirty-year old organization supporting a residential population of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that was struggling due to longstanding financial challenges. Within three years under his leadership, the company reversed its lackluster straits, receiving unprecedented back-to-back CQL accreditation ratings that placed it in the top 1% of social service enterprises in the nation. 

Jim focused the turnaround on cost savings, labor productivity gains and reversing obesity and diabetes rates through better nutrition for the organization’s residential population; improving-health goals were established, and the workforce was galvanized, educated and trained. Based on such progress and innovation, new community alliances and the positive attention of new external stakeholders and funders were solidified.

This experience was the basis for founding Mainstay, Inc. and the creation of the company’s outcomes-driven wellness approach focused on workforce transformation that is now a nationwide initiative. For over a decade, Jim has spearheaded all aspects of the business and is responsible for writing and directing the SBIR Phase I and II grants awarded to Mainstay by the USDA. Jim conceptualized and managed development of the company’s dynamic online systems aimed at better nutrition/obesity prevention and introduced the company’s My25 programmatic toolkit, which continually evolves under his guidance.

Jim has participated on a number of boards and advisory committees including Dartmouth’s Medical School, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the YMCA, and Davidson College. He frequently consults and speaks on a national basis regarding preventive health, improved nutrition and obesity prevention.

Sylvia I. Landy, Special Chefs Co-Founder and Mainstay’s Chief Operating Officer, holds her MBA from top-ranked Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which she received after graduating from the University of Illinois within the top 1% of her class.

Following her education, Sylvia immediately became immersed in the health care field and identified a need to dramatically enhance care and costs for hospitals. She founded Adicon, Inc. to produce and distribute custom surgical kits as a way to improve operating room turnover, streamline nursing priorities and enhance control and quality of disposable surgical supplies, so that patient care was maximized. Baxter International, a Fortune 500 health care leader, acquired Sylvia’s start up—that she had grown to a nationwide concern—and she was responsible for transitioning Adicon’s operation into the larger corporate structure; this division now represents $5 billion of annual sales.

Sylvia joined Jim at the onset of Mainstay, Inc. and has been involved in the growth of the business for over a decade. She formulated and developed the supporting resources for the Co-Catalyze model that underpins wellness achievement and obesity prevention. Sylvia has also been instrumental in galvanizing the support of key state and federal legislators and health and human services officials regarding innovative obesity prevention as a means to reduced financial expense and heightened workforce productivity. Sylvia frequently speaks on a regional basis and consults regarding preventive health and obesity prevention.