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Blanchet House of Hospitality in Portland, Ore.

Homeless and disadvantaged Portland men in need of food, clothing and temporary shelter have greater access than ever before in this LEED Platinum building featuring a contemporary, energy-efficient kitchen.

The dining room receives natural light. Wood stools and tables built by the residents at the farm contribute to an earthy, natural ambiance. Founded in 1952, Blanchet House of Hospitality is a nonprofit organization offering free meals, beds and jobs for Portland, Ore., men who are homeless, disadvantaged or have temporarily encountered tough times. In 2011, the building where Blanchet House operated was 100 years old and barely sufficient to provide 600 to 800 free meals per day 6 days a week and house the 29 men enrolled in a transitional housing program.

In September 2012, Blanchet House of Hospitality moved into a new building in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood it had called home for decades. The 36,000-square-foot, 4-story facility is about 4 times larger than the old facility, providing more space for Blanchet House of Hospitality's needs, including a state-of-the-art all-electric kitchen, walk-in cold storage, ground level and basement dry storage and 3 floors of residential rooms with a central shared bathroom, laundry and community room on each floor.

Blanchet House of Hospitality serves between 800 and 1,000 meals daily, 6 days a week, totaling a projected 300,000 meals per year, not including holiday meals. Men, women and children are welcome for meals. Blanchet House also provides housing to 48 men, most of whom take part in various rehabilitation programs. "In exchange for room and board, the men work daily shifts in the kitchen preparing meals that they later serve, followed by clean-up and maintenance of the cafeteria," says Brian Ferschweiler, executive director of Blanchet House of Hospitality, who has been with the organization for nine years.

The men team up with Blanchet House of Hospitality's 5,000 volunteers, many of whom are local middle school, high school and college students, to continue the organization's mission: "to feed, clothe and offer shelter to those in need."

Blanchet House of Hospitality also includes a 62-acre farm in Yamhill County, which the organization purchased in 1962. Twenty men in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction work at the farm.

New Beginnings

Project funding for the new Blanchet House of Hospitality came from a capital campaign that secured $1.3 million in contributions from the Murdock Trust, Collins Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund and Scott Duffens. The New Markets Tax Credit Program and a grant from the City of Portland provided additional project funding. The Office of City Commissioner Nick Fish, the Portland Development Commission and US Bank were active partners in this public/private joint-financing agreement.

Designed by SERA Architects, the building serves to enhance the surrounding historic neighborhood and provide a positive, supportive space for the people who use it daily. The balconies are an unexpected amenity, with guardrail details that reference Portland's nearby Chinese Garden.

The new building is equipped with several high-performance features that helped it secure a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The project incorporates rainwater harvesting, high-efficiency skin and glazing systems and energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems to generate significant water and energy savings.

SERA provided integrated design services starting with the eco-charrette and climate analysis. They eliminated mechanical systems within the units, utilizing a super-insulated envelope. The project received more than $300,000 in incentives, allowing the building to incorporate one of the city's largest rainwater harvesting systems, energy-efficient lighting, extra insulation, thermally broken low-e windows and a 2,500-square-foot eco-roof that, together with the rainwater tank, allows for 100 percent of the storm water to be managed on-site and used for toilet flushing.

"Our decision to go with an all-electrical kitchen helped the building earn LEED Platinum status," says Ray Soucie, FCSI, LEED AP, principal at RSA Inc., Portland, Ore., which provided foodservice design and consulting services. "The first kitchen design used all-gas cooking, and then the second used all-electric cooking appliances. Additionally, we compared direct ventilation demand systems, self-contained versus remote refrigeration, waste management and water conservation.

"We compiled the data, examined the initial investment costs with their prospective return on investment (ROI), combined it with exhaust system requirements for each and shared it with PAE Consulting Engineers in Portland to plug into their building modeling program," Soucie continues. "After weighing our ROI options with available investment dollars, it was determined that an all-electric kitchen was the best choice. It would not only be less expensive to purchase initially, it also reduced the loads on the HVAC for the building and provided lower ambient operating temperatures in the kitchen."

In order to set up the kitchen for whatever the foodservice operation may require in the future, Soucie says the design team plumbed the wall behind the cookline with back-up gas capabilities.

Aesthetics were a consideration when developing the kitchen design and equipment package, Soucie says. "Blanchet House is trying to lift the image of the kitchen," he says. "The general public can look into the kitchen, and people who donate want to be sure their contributions are being well used."

Soucie quickly discovered that budgeting would not be an issue. "This is where the foodservice professionals in our industry shined," he says. "Some donated in-kind services, others entire pieces of equipment, while others offered items or services at cost. It was a rare time in the heart of the recession when a community of highly competitive businesses thought of others first. From the manufacturers to the installers, all were on board to help. Instead of having to gut 30 percent of the project during value engineering, a pristine kitchen was built with community pride."

The 2,500-square-foot kitchen contains a circular flow to avoid cross-contamination. When he's stationary, Patrick Daley, Blanchet House manager and the only staff person to live
full-time at the facility, sits in an office with glass windows on three sides so he can see all the action in the kitchen.

After food enters into a garage, staff, which include men residing at Blanchet House of Hospitality and volunteers, take it to a large stainless steel table where boxes can be broken down, and then transport food into the kitchen's cold and dry storage areas. Soucie says the walk-ins, with their five-inch-thick insulated walls and on-demand electronic defrost system, qualify for the incentive rebate program offered by the Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization set up under the direction of the Oregon Public Utility Commission to administer public-purpose funds collected for cost-effective conservation, new market transformation and above-market costs of new renewable energy resources.

At the nearby cold prep area, staff wash vegetables in two-compartment sinks and cut up proteins. Drop-down electrical cords suspended above the worktables allow staff to configure the prep area for bulk prep and sandwich prep. "The tables are on locking casters so they can be configured as needed," Soucie says. Staff use a food processor to prepare house-made salad dressings and other menu items.

The Hot Prep Stations

Staff use tilting kettles, countertop induction cookers, a griddle, a braising pan, two sets of stacked convection ovens and a steamer to prepare and heat daily menu fare. "Brian wasn't familiar with induction, so I took him to a local hospital to see how efficient it can be," Soucie says. "He realized that we could produce desired quality food by using induction instead of open burners. Staff can cook food right in the hotel pans and drop them directly into the built-in hot wells at the plate-up area."