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Invigorating Senior Dining with Exhibition Kitchens

Exhibition kitchens in the main restaurants bring a welcome enhancement to dining at Harbor Retirement Associates’ (HRA) establishments. Based in Vero Beach, Fla., HRA is a regional senior living development and operating company. It focuses primarily on assisted living and memory care communities but also develops and operates independent living and skilled nursing communities.

PalmBeachGardens ExhibitionKitchen chefChef Chris Blum displays a fresh-baked pizza from the exhibition kitchen at HarborChase of Palm Beach Gardens.

The nine exhibition kitchens, one in Wisconsin at HarborChase of Shorewood and another in Florida at HarborChase of Palm Beach Gardens, serve as a showcase for each community’s culinary team.

“The kitchens are the culinary hotspot and focal point of our main and private dining restaurants,” says Gottfried Ernst, former vice president of hospitality at HRA, who helped develop the exhibition concept. [He left HRA in July 2018.] “It’s the place for residents and their guests to watch our culinary team in action, doing what they do best with a la minute and cook-to-order cooking.”

HarborChase of Shorewood Pizza KitchenA stone hearth oven, drop-in cold pans and induction cooktops support food preparation at the Shorewood exhibition kitchen, which opens to dining rooms.

The exhibition kitchens also feature interactive cooking classes as well as special offerings for private dining such as chef’s table themed dinners and carving stations for Sunday brunch and special events. “More interaction with the chefs brings excitement for residents and guests,” says Christopher Thompson, vice president of hospitality. “They can smell the aromas of bread and pizza baking and vegetables roasting. The kitchens create a sense of anticipation about the menu items as residents watch their food being prepared and cooked rather than receiving food plated in the kitchen.”

Receiving and Placing Orders

Residents who eat at Signatures, a casual dining room, receive printed menus and give their orders to a wait staff member who transmits the order via a point-of-sale system from a tablet to the main kitchen. A printer then produces an order ticket. An expediter walks the ticket to the various stations in the kitchen, including the exhibition kitchen, which serves as an expanded station of the main kitchen. Wait staff pick up guests’ orders from a window at the main kitchen or the exhibition kitchen and deliver them to the tables. Staff fill beverage orders from a service station.

In the main kitchen, staff prepare mise en place for each station, including the exhibition kitchen. The main kitchen’s equipment includes a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer, 3 sandwich/salad reach-in refrigerators, a slicer, a 5-quart and 30-quart mixer, 2 combi-ovens, a chargrill, 2 fryers, a 6-burner range, a conveyor toaster, a microwave oven, and an ice cream dipping cabinet. The Palm Beach Gardens kitchen also has a tilt skillet and 2 steam-jacketed kettles.

The main kitchen supports the casual dining room and a fine-dining restaurant, as well as private dining rooms, a bistro, a bar and memory care dining rooms.

In the exhibition kitchens, undercounter refrigerated drawers hold ingredients for each mealtime’s preparation. Cold pans showcase fresh ingredients used as pizza toppings or for exhibition events. Plate warmers keep casseroles and other hot menu items at proper temperatures. The Palm Beach Gardens facility features a vertical wall garden showcasing living herbs, lettuces and other vegetables.

Each exhibition kitchen contains a hearth oven, which guests can see flickering from the restaurant. Culinary staff use the oven to bake pizzas, flatbreads, fresh breads, casseroles, French onion soup, rolls, roast vegetables and desserts. Countertop induction cooktops support the preparation of other menu items, such as omelets. The kitchen also contains portable induction warmers. Exhibition kitchen staff also finish off room service trays and box up pizza and flatbreads for delivery to residents’ rooms.

HarborChase of Shorewood Private Dining The exhibition kitchen supports private dining room events and is visible to diners.

“Our biggest design challenge centered on creating an engaging culinary destination with as many great views from seats in two restaurant dining rooms to the action in the exhibition kitchen,” says Jan Crain, allied ASID, senior foodservice design consultant and interior designer, Direct Supply Aptura in Milwaukee. “To achieve this, we positioned the stone hearth oven in a corner to maximize views of the fire box, lowered counters from 48 inches to 36 inches and expanded the size of the window openings. The commercial refrigerated drawers are positioned below millwork counters to keep ingredients at the ready and to keep the focus on the food and the chef. Deep counters allow for efficient organization of tools and fresh ingredients for showcasing culinary skills. Collaboration with the interior designers ensured that material selections worked to reduce distracting noise transfer from the exhibition kitchen into the restaurants.”

HRA plans to bring more exhibition kitchens into new properties. “We’ve always focused on managing labor costs and keeping waste low,” Thompson says. “The exhibition kitchens are managed the way the entire kitchen is managed. The exhibition kitchens help us increase the quality level of hospitality and dining, bring more value to our services and set us apart from the competition. We’re bringing hospitality to the forefront, which is what the Baby Boomer generation is looking for and expects when they retire and come to these facilities.”

The Bistro and Bar at Shorewood

The bistro and combined bar at Shorewood offers residents and their guests additional dining options. The area features sliding doors that reveal a coffee shop and retail display by day that transforms into a welcoming pub destination by night.

The trellis detail continues outdoors, where additional seating and a putting green attract residents and their guests to the outdoors during Wisconsin’s summers. Seating incorporates a mixture of bar-height, counter-height and table seating to accommodate residents and guests of all mobility levels.

Culinary staff prepare food in the main kitchen and serve guests at their tables. Bistro equipment includes a panini press, a toaster, a drop-in ice cream freezer, a drop-in refrigerated merchandiser, an undercounter compact refrigerator, sinks, a countertop wine chiller and a beer dispenser.

On-Site Hospitality Training

Harbor Retirement Associates’ corporate directors and directors of senior living communities participate in an etiquette and hospitality training program. Led by Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, and Susan Bigsby, a certified image professional, the two-day training includes all facets of professional image and etiquette.

During the training, attendees learn techniques for making first impressions, including small talk, remembering names, handshakes and introductions. They also receive etiquette training about host duties, placing glassware and cutlery, toasting, table talk and seating etiquette.

“We want to set a standard for excellence in hospitality in senior living, “ says Kim Lewis, chief operating officer at HRA.

HarborChase of Shorewood Bistro Night ShotThe bistro and bar area at HarborChase of Shorewood expands the facility’s dining options.

Facts of Note

  • Harbor Retirement Associates: Operates 33 communities in 8 states. HRA manages more than $150 million in revenue and approximately $1 billion in assets. It employs 2,000 associates.
  • Residential Units: HarborChase of Shorewood in Shorewood, Wis., 94; HarborChase of Palm Beach Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 120
  • Dining Services: The main kitchen supports the casual dining room, Signatures; as well as the private dining room, Zest; a bistro, Counter Offer; a bar, Fusion at Palm Beach Gardens; a fine dining restaurant, Grill Room at Palm Beach Gardens; and The Pig n Whistle, a concept exclusive to Shorewood; and memory care dining rooms, Cove.
  • Exhibition Kitchens Opened: Shorewood, December 2015; Palm Beach Gardens, July 2017
    Scope of Project: Exhibition kitchens serve as extensions of the main kitchens; one side opens to Signatures restaurant (main dining room) and the other to Zest, the private dining room
  • Size of Exhibition Kitchens: 120 sq. ft.
  • Seats: In Signatures Restaurant, Shorewood, 91; Palm Beach Gardens, 135; each private dining space, 10
  • Average Check: Residents pay with dining plan dollars; $12 per meal for paying customers such as visiting family members
  • Total Annual Sales: Exhibition kitchens bring in $40,000 annually in additional revenue for Signatures above meal plan sales
  • Daily Transactions/Covers in Main Dining Area Connected to Exhibition Kitchen: Shorewood, 169; Palm Beach Gardens, 135
  • Signatures Restaurant and Exhibition Kitchen Hours: Breakfast, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.; lunch, noon to 1p.m.; dinner, 5p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Menu Specialties from Exhibition Kitchen: Gourmet flatbreads, fresh breads from the hearth oven, strattas, frittatas, skillet dishes and desserts such as freshly prepared cobbler and tarts
  • Dining Staff: Shorewood, 15; Palm Beach Gardens, 20
  • Exhibition Kitchen Equipment Investment: $23,000
  • Website:

Key Players

  • Owner: Harbor Retirement Associates, Vero Beach, Fla.; Shorewood financial partner, Orlando-based CNL Healthcare Properties; Palm Beach Gardens financial partner, Dallas-based Silverstone Healthcare Co.
  • HRA Chairman and Managing Partner: Tim Smick
  • HRA President and CEO: Sarabeth Hanson
  • HRA Chief Operating Officer: Kim Lewis
  • HRA Chief Development Officer: Charlie Jennings
  • HRA Vice President of Hospitality: Gottfried Ernst (until July 2018)
  • HRA Vice President of Hospitality: Christopher Thompson, CEC
  • Shorewood Executive Director: Veronica Rudychev
  • Palm Beach Gardens Executive Director: Michael Siciliano
  • Shorewood Director of Hospitality and Executive Chef: Anthony Schell
  • Palm Beach Gardens Director of Hospitality and Executive Chef: Chris Blum
  • Architects: Shorewood, Eppstein Uhen Architects, Milwaukee; Palm Beach Gardens, BOKA Powell, Dallas
  • Interior Design: Shorewood, Direct Supply Aptura, Milwaukee; Palm Beach Gardens, Thoma-Holec Design, Mesa, Ariz.
  • Foodservice Consultants: Shorewood and Palm Beach Gardens, Direct Supply Aptura; Jan Crain, Allied ASID, senior foodservice design consultant and interior designer
  • Equipment Dealer: Direct Supply
  • Construction: Shorewood, Altius Building Co., Brookfield, Wis.; Palm Beach Gardens, Proctor
    Construction, Vero Beach, Fla.