The Sodexo team at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston wanted to provide an upscale menu rarely seen in healthcare settings. It did just that with the cuisine at Medical Plaza North Café, which serves employees working in a 27-floor office building, various medical office buildings and at the hospital.

Innovation Team: The Sodexo team, includes Larry Yonda, director, culinary services at Memorial Hermann; Karen English, director and general manager; Ben Schulman, executive chef.

Cuisines-Display-CookingAt Cuisines, staff cook to order while customers look on and customize their orders."In our cafés, our goal is to provide our patrons with a wow factor," says Larry Yonda director of culinary services at Memorial Hermann. "Even though this is an office building location, just as in a hospital environment, food can be used for healing, and, in this situation, reducing stress."

Open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., the 2-year-old, 5,000-square-foot café records about 3,500 transactions daily. Customers dine in a 160-seat room adjacent to the servery. Culinary staff cook in full view of customers at the various exhibition platforms that feature such equipment as a range, wok, flattop and charbroiler.

Food choices range from $4 to $18. The average check is $5. The café registers $900,000 in annual sales. Staffing includes 25 full-time employees. "What really differentiates our café are the upscale dishes," Yonda says.

The grill features made-to-order paninis, burgers, wraps and other popular items. At the display station, staff prepare Dr. Pepper-braised short ribs, roast pork loin with saffron risotto, grilled salmon with miso dressing and grilled-to-order steaks such as New York strip. The café's menu also includes roasted proteins, parmesan-encrusted tilapia and homemade gourmet pizzas, soups and wraps. Grab-and-go display cases offer gourmet sandwiches, salads and fresh sushi.

For guests looking to keep track of the nutrition they consume a menu icon denotes some of the more healthful items. "We call it 'mindful' because we want people to make mindful choices in regards to their eating habits," Yonda says. "I personally appear on the local NBC news affiliate, KPRC, to help promote healthy eating habits. We also host Meatless Monday to emphasize our focus on wellness."

Immediately after placing an order, each guest receives a pager that buzzes when the order is ready. "This way customers can relax while their order is being prepared," Yonda says. "We'll also be rolling out this concept in the hospital's new operations."

The back-of-the-house kitchen uses a kettle, steamer, tilt skillet, combi oven and a blast chiller incorporated into the walk-in to support the front-of-the-house cooking stations. "This design also is a great use of space. There is a main door to the walk-in and a pass-through, which provides the employees ease of use and always keeps products at the proper temperature," Yonda says.

Products go into the blast chiller and remain there for the next day's service. "This installation lets the cooks put products in the blast chiller and run the cycle so they can chill products after their shifts and products will remain at the right temperature all night," Yonda says. "Data is recorded as well."

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