As the U.S. population ages, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. A key component at these CCRCs is foodservice, which also continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of the burgeoning segment.

Ohio Presbyterian SeveryThis mini-kitchen at Dorothy Love Retirement Community features warm wood cabinets, undercounter refrigeration, a small dishwasher, accelerated cooking ovens and induction cooking. No hood is used. This and two other serveries were built in August 2011 when the facility moved from a traditional trayline to this concept.Take, for example, Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services (OPRS), where dining services is undergoing continuous transformation to meet the needs of its rapidly expanding resident population.

OPRS operates 12 communities in Ohio and its cook-to-order mini-kitchens that serve rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities, representing some of the most practical and popular aspects of the company's foodservice program. One of the newest kitchens opened in May 2014 at the new rehab and skilled nursing addition to the Cape May Retirement Village located in Wilmington, Ohio, between Columbus and Cincinnati.

Serving 30 rehab guests and skilled nursing residents, a 475-square-foot kitchen with a dishroom sits in between 2 dining rooms, 1 for short-stay rehabilitation residents and the other for long-term skilled nursing residents. Serving an à la carte menu, guests and residents can select from many daily entrées, sandwiches, salads, sides and specials of the day. "The specials are very popular but we find that approximately 50 percent of the guests and residents order something from the à la carte menu," says John Andrews, FMP, MBA, corporate director of Culinary and Nutrition Services for OPRS. A cycled menu supports residents and rehab guests on therapeutic diets.

Other OPRS communities also employ this approach, which the company first installed five years ago. "We find this mini-kitchen and à la carte-style concept meets the demands of a wider range of age demographics," Andrews says. "We hope the younger rehab guests leave the community having had a good experience and will want to tell their friends or return here in the future."

Ohio Presbyterian kitchen equipmentA countertop combi, 2-burner range, flattop grill and fryer support production in the 475-square-foot Cape May kitchen. Cape May's self-contained mini-kitchen's equipment package consists of a countertop combi oven, 24-inch grill, fryer on a refrigerated base with drawers and a 2-burner gas range. An exhaust hood covers all this equipment. On the opposite side of the prep area sits a 30-inch deli cold table, chef's table with a double overhead heated shelf, reach-in refrigerator-freezer, a beverage counter and ice machine. A 109-square-foot dishroom, sitting within the 475-square-foot kitchen, contains a ventless single tank dishwasher.

"We needed the ability to have more flexibility in when and what the guests and residents eat," Andrews says. "For example, often, when rehab guests first arrive, they prefer to eat in their rooms for the first day or two, so the kitchen also provides room service at extended hours of operation. Some skilled nursing residents need to eat in their rooms. Then, when residents are able to come to the dining room they come to a comfortable environment where they can socialize if they wish."

Since implementing this concept throughout OPRS, Andrews reports that satisfaction levels continue to rise. "Guests and residents enjoy the freshness and variety," he says. "I and the chefs spend time in the dining room talking with residents and listening to their comments on the food and service. They all really like to get to know the chefs and receive personal attention. We are able to meet their requests on the spot."

Mini-Kitchen Challenges

Ohio Presbyterian dining roomOne dining room serves residents undergoing rehab and another on the opposite side of the kitchen serves residents in skilled nursing care.At several communities where a mini cook-to-order kitchen sits in existing space, a hood system is neither practical nor possible. "The use of induction, speed cook ovens and ventless combi ovens and ventless dishwashers make it possible to implement our concept almost anywhere," Andrews says. The Dorothy Love and Swan Creek communities serve as two examples of using this ventless approach.

Advanced equipment technology will also be a key feature in OPRS's newest addition at the Westminster-Thurber Community in Columbus, which will open in the fall of 2015. A 7-story independent living building will add more than 100 residents to the existing 150-resident population that lives in a 10-story apartment building on this campus. A kitchen will sit in the existing building on the main floor and feature a restaurant-style cook-to-order menu, a gourmet grab-and-go location, pub, catering and a bistro for visitors, families and residents.

As Andrews and the OPRS staff welcome increasingly sophisticated and demanding customers, they must respond with menus and services that are in step with the times. As they have discovered, foodservice technology is allowing them to stay on top of their game.

Facts of Note:

  • Total number of OPRS facilities: 12 in Ohio
  • Total OPRS residents: 2,900
  • Residents at Cape May: 84 in independent living; 31 in assisted living; and 30 in skilled nursing care and rehab
  • Residents at Dorothy Love: 136 assisted living, skilled nursing and rehab
  • Total annual revenue OPRS Culinary and Nutritional Services: $21 million
  • Corporate foodservice staff: 250 full and part-time
  • Cape May staff: 17 FTEs
  • Hours, Cape May: Skilled nursing and rehab, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., breakfast; 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. lunch; 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., dinner. Independent living restaurant: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., brunch; dinner, 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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  • John Andrews, FMP, MBA, corporate director of Culinary and Nutritional Services (CNS) for OPRS
  • Lucille Militello, Cape May Retirement Village's executive chef and director of CNS
  • Brian Lippiet, Park Vista of Youngstown's executive chef and director of CNS, and OPRS's CNS resource chef
  • Penny Clark, Dorothy Love Retirement Community's director of CNS
  • Erin Burmeister, Dorothy Love Retirement Community's assistant director of CNS
  • Jason Koprivich, Westminster-Thurber Community's executive chef and director of CNS and OPRS's CNS and resource chef
  • Patrick Young, Swan Creek Retirement Village's executive chef and director of CNS and OPRS's CNS resource chef
  • Stacy Chesney, Swan Creek Retirement Village's executive sous chef