When Army Residence Community set out to upgrade its main dining room as part of a large-scale modernization project, they had a problem: Finding a place to feed the retired military and civil service residents living in more than 600 units across the facility’s 148-acre San Antonio campus.
“The bulk of the project was really the common areas,” says CEO Steven Fuller. “We wanted to modernize all the corridors on 13 floors, and then our big community spaces, which are the main dining room and the auditorium.”
During construction, Fuller says they “closed the main dining room and the main kitchen and transferred that entire operation into the bistro.” Some operations also shifted to a white-linen fine dining restaurant called Water’s Edge.
They turned a lounge, which sits across from the bistro’s small dining area, into the temporary dining room and cooked out of the bistro kitchen. Once the main dining room is open, they will close the bistro for two weeks to prepare the space for reopening and to reposition equipment.
Photo credit: Army Residence Community
Photo: The modernization includes an entirely new kitchen, redesigned to be more efficient, with a better workflow and use of staff.
Before the renovation, the community had three dining venues: the main dining room, a bistro, and Water’s Edge. In total, they served between 1,000 and 1,500 meals per day. During construction, that number dropped to around 750-800 meals per day.
The modernization includes a brand new kitchen. “We totally gutted the entire kitchen that we had before and redesigned it so it would be much more efficient, with a better use of staff and workflow. It’s laid out a lot more efficiently now,” Fuller says.
The project was trickier to navigate than they anticipated. The original plan, drawn up more than three years before the start date, was interrupted by the pandemic. Once the project began, they were beset with challenges, including contractor shortages and rising interest rates. The group is proud that they were able to solve problems as they arose and bring the entire vision to life.
They started the $42 million project in July 2022. It’s slated to open in mid-November.
Achim Barrow, senior director operations at Morrison Living, says the former kitchen was set up more for production than anything else. It worked well for to-go meals but was difficult for dine-in orders because it didn’t function optimally as a restaurant kitchen.
“Now we have a show kitchen,” Barrow says. “It’s open to residents. They can see us actually producing their food.”
The main dining room will have an expanded footprint with better views. They reimagined the whole experience, sectioning off the large room to create more intimate spaces for dining. Barrow says the previous space was like “a military officer’s club from the late ‘80s. It had that kind of vibe.” It will feel more elegant now, he says, less like a cafeteria. Fuller adds that it will be “more resident friendly and appealing.”
They made other resident-focused changes. They moved the private dining room from a disconnected, remote location into the dining space so residents who reserve it for special events will be part of the action. In addition to the new seating options, the main dining room will feature a portable teaching kitchen for live cooking demonstrations, complete with the ability to record and broadcast them later. Another significant upgrade: they’ve added a full-service bar that will double as a coffee shop in the mornings.
Photo credit: Army Residence Community
Photo: They sectioned off the cafeteria-like main dining room to create more intimate spaces for dining.
Right next to the main dining room, off the entrance to the main lobby, they added a market so residents can pick up grocery items, such as fresh produce, canned products, frozen goods and more. The market, instead of the main dining room, will now handle to-go meals so residents can more easily access late-night or on-the-go meals. On the back end, the market connects to the main kitchen for easy stocking.
And one more big addition: they added a “sky lounge” on the top floor of the high-rise apartment complex — the same building where the main dining spaces are housed — to provide residents with top-grade dining options and a birds-eye view.
Army Residence Community has offered tours and released videos to keep residents updated and have included resident input and involvement through their dining services and strategic planning committees. In a key move, the residents got to vote on names for the various venues. Soon, they’ll be dining at Bluebonnet (the main dining hall), shopping at Liberty Market, grabbing a drink at Top Flight, and heading to the thirteenth floor for upscale dining at Grand View.
The residents, Fuller says, “are very excited.”