Acts Retirement-Life Community at Plantation Estates in Matthews, N.C., continues to attract younger and more active independent-living residents. The newest addition to dining options appealing to these active residents, Bistro 51, offers a casual menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“This bistro offers a nice balance in conjunction with our two upscale dining venues and the two cafes on campus,” says Patrick Picciocchi, executive director. Dining hours at Bistro 51 allow residents to order dine-in or takeout service throughout the day — before or after a golf game or in between social engagements.
“Our goal is to create dining spaces with their own unique personality and identity,” Picciocchi says. Bistro 51 is an open-kitchen cook-to-order concept with a salad and soup bar that stands out as the centerpiece of the dining space. Residents enter the bistro, see a digital menu board, and order from daily offerings including sandwiches, pizzas, a full grill menu of burgers and hot sandwiches, entrees, and cakes, ice cream and other desserts. Guests can see many ingredients for menu items displayed on counters behind vertical glass display shields. Customers place their orders with a cashier, then visit the salad and soup bar before taking a seat in the dining room. Staff prepare and assemble the residents’ orders and bring the food to customers’ tables by the time they’ve finished their soup and salad.
Offering a high-energy dining space that Picciocchi describes as “sleek, sexy and contemporary,” the food at Bistro 51 is more eclectic than at the other four restaurants on campus. The menu changes daily with a few staples that remain available continuously. “This has become the chefs’ playground, and many selections, such as fresh catch of the day and specialty beef cuts, are offered off-menu,” says Theresa Bova, campus director of Culinary and Nutrition Services.
Under Bova’s leadership, Acts hires predominately restaurant-trained employees because she believes they understand the style of service better than employees with only institutional experience. “Residents who dine here often do so because of the excitement of trying something new,” Bova says. “Sous Chef Joe Sturgeon, who oversees Bistro 51, can often be found trying a new pickling technique on fresh vegetables or house-smoking a featured fresh catch of the day.”
Two kitchens support Bistro 51, a main kitchen and an open kitchen. Both kitchens sit on the same level of the Pavilion building. “We spent a great deal of time working on both the flow of this space and the service style,” Picciocchi says. “The footprint of the prerenovated cafe was not large enough to encompass everything we envisioned for this bistro project.” Therefore, designers dedicated a portion of the large main kitchen that sits adjacent to the bistro for a well-equipped cooking line in the bistro. Once designers created the cooking line, the salad bar could become a priority.
Food Preparation and Service
Deliveries arrive at a loading dock adjacent to the main kitchen. Staff break down pallets and store food and supplies in two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer and dry storage. The main kitchen also supports The Southern Table sit-down restaurant as well as assisted and skilled care dining rooms.
Main kitchen staff prepare vegetables and other mise en place for sandwiches, salads, pizza, desserts and the salad bar, as well as menu items such as soups, burger patties, fish filets, mashed potatoes, and roasted pork loin and other meats. “Because the bistro is not an operation with steam tables holding prepared items, we don’t cook menu items such as broccoli and burgers in the main kitchen, but rather cook them in the open kitchen,” Bova says.
The main kitchen’s equipment includes two combi ovens, three convection ovens, three finishing ovens that can reach 500 degrees F, two steam-jacketed kettles, a braiser/tilt skillet, two salamanders, a 36-inch grill, a 36-inch flattop, open-flame ranges and two double fryers. A carving station sits at the front counter so a culinary staff member can give residents the type of cut they like.
Staff transport menu ingredients to the bistro’s open kitchen for cooking and assembling menu items. They place menu items requiring refrigeration into one of eight refrigeration units on the hot line behind the salad bar. That refrigeration equipment lineup includes four undercounter refrigeration units, one chef base refrigerator and three upright refrigerators.
“This allows us to have plenty of stock to get through a busy shift without having to go to the back kitchen for replenishments,” Picciocchi says. “Because we have our mise en place for the whole shift stored in the dining area, we can keep both the chefs and the service staff where they need to be: in front of the residents.”
After guests place orders with the cashier, culinary staff prepare menu items with the support of a hot cookline, which contains an open-flame pizza oven, a double fryer, a 36-inch flattop griddle, a 24-inch chargrill, two 4-burner ranges, a salamander and two finishing ovens.
Casual contemporary fare for lunch includes hearth-fired pizzas; specialty sandwiches such as a locally sourced fried green tomato wrap with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, arcadia lettuce and chipotle mayo and an in-house roasted turkey sandwich on sprouted whole grain bread with cucumbers, tomatoes, Bibb lettuce and sun-dried tomato spread; and hand-formed patty burgers on brioche buns with smoked cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon. Dinner features everything from pork roasts to blackened salmon with Israeli couscous and mango-mint slaw or sweet tea-brined fried chicken thigh over sweet potato hash with habanero syrup.
“Two cooks work the small line very efficiently,” Bova says. “They serve 120 residents for lunch and 180 for dinner, in addition to employees, at each meal in under two hours for each meal period. We’ve streamlined the menu so the cooks can work more than one station at the same time. The layout of the hot line allows for many meals to be served with a small brigade.”
Only a sous chef and one line cook are necessary to execute lunch service. A supervisor works as an expediter, finishing the plates but also visiting guests at their tables throughout the shift. Servers run food to tables while maintaining the salad bar and drink stations. The team works to clear tables quickly so they are ready for more diners. “Teamwork and multirole management is key to this operation’s success,” Bova adds.
Changes to the salad bar also support expedited service. One key change was including the salad bar with all meals instead of having guests order the salad bar as a menu choice, which was the approach when Bistro 51 first opened. “Guests can now go back to the salad bar as often as they like, but most people go just once,” Bova says. “By including the salad bar with every meal, we not only scored a huge win with our residents, but we allowed for adequate time for entree preparation. Residents order their menu items and go directly to the salad and soup bar and then go to their seats. Within about 8 to 10 minutes, they receive their menu order. There is zero lag time before, during or after the entree service, which provides a seamless, timely meal. In addition, we can turn tables quickly.”
Service efficiency is also important for employees working at the continued care retirement center. All employees can dine at Bistro 51 for any meal, though most come for lunch only.
Once a table is cleared, staff members scrape dirty dishes and rinse them in a pass-thru area. “Because we have our dish area located directly behind the dining room, we eliminate long trips back to the kitchen after clearing a table,” Picciocchi says. Sanitation stewards collect dishes and serviceware and take them to the main kitchen for washing.
In the months since Bistro 51 opened and before it was closed for regular sit-down service on March 16, Picciocchi, Bova and the culinary staff received enthusiastic compliments for the new concept, menu items and service. The Bistro has offered takeout and delivery since it opened, which as of press time was the only service option. Residents order ahead by phone. “When we reopen, which we hope will be soon, we hope to offer the gorgeous salad bar, but attendants will assemble the salads,” Picciocchi says.
Facts of Note
- Opened: September 2019
- Scope of project: A European-style bistro operation with an open-concept kitchen located in The Pavilion off the front entrance of the atrium lobby
- Headquarters: Acts Retirement-Life Communities in Fort Washington, Penn., a not-for-profit continuing care retirement community for people 62 years old and above that owns and operates 26 communities in 9 states, houses 10,000 residents and employs 8,000 team members
Acts Retirement-Life Community in Matthews, N.C.: Situated on 125 acres; 780 residents in 481 independent living apartments; 20 villas; 60 assisted living suites and 80 skilled care rooms; employs 420 team members
- Bistro 51 size: 4,310 square feet, including 1,900 sq. ft. for open kitchen and 2,410 sq. ft. for dining room Bistro 51 seating: 82
- Average check: Residents have fixed pricing through their meal programs as part of their monthly fee. Residents can opt to pay cash with breakfast averaging $4.50 and lunch and dinner averaging $6.
- Total annual sales, projected before COVID-19 closure: $50,000
- Daily transactions/covers: Approximately 425 (35 residents and 20 employees at breakfast, 120 residents and 50 employees at lunch, 180 residents and 20 employees at dinner)
- Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday
- Menu specialties: Casual contemporary fare for lunch includes hearth-fired pizzas, specialty sandwiches such as a fried green tomato wrap with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, arcadia lettuce and chipotle mayo and an in-house roasted turkey sandwich on sprouted whole grain bread with cucumbers, tomatoes, Bibb lettuce and sun-dried tomato spread; and hand-formed patty burgers on brioche buns with smoked cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon. Dinner choices include blackened salmon with Israeli couscous and mango-mint slaw and sweet tea-brined fried chicken thigh over sweet potato hash with habanero syrup.
- Bistro 51 staff: 1 sous chef and 1 culinary service supervisor under the direction of the director of Culinary and Nutrition Services and the chef manager; 5 cooks and 12 service staff assist
- Total project cost: $5.1 million
- Equipment investment: $100,000
- Website: actsretirement.org
- Owner: Plantation Estates in Matthews, N.C., owned by Acts Retirement-Life Communities
- Campus executive director: Steve Messer
- Executive director: Patrick Picciocchi
- Campus director of Culinary and Nutrition Services: Theresa Bova
- Assistant director of Culinary and Nutrition Services: Adam Wenzel King
- Executive chef: Michael Brantley
- Sous chef: Joe Sturgeon
- Architect: THW Design, Atlanta: Jose Montalvo, AIA, associate and senior project manager
- Interior design: THW Design, Atlanta: Beth Green, senior designer
- Foodservice consultants: Camacho Associates, Charlotte, N.C.: James Camacho, FCSI, CSI, CDT, president; Reggie Daniel, principal (died in 2016); and Jennifer Murphy, FCSI, LEED AP, project manager
- Equipment dealer: Singer Equipment Company, Paterson, N.J.
- Construction: Roby Construction, part of the Roby Family of Companies, Charlotte and Boone, N.C.