Central Table‘s renovation is unusual in that it involved not so much an upgrade in the physical plant as in operating approach. The venue, which occupies 10,000 square feet on the first floor of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, had already undergone a spectacular construction job in 2013, when it first opened as a food hall boasting a variety of concept stations.
While that was very innovative, especially for a healthcare environment, it didn’t meet the goals set for it by the hospital and contract company Morrison Healthcare, which operates onsite dining at Barnes Jewish.
So back to the drawing board…
When Central Table reopened last fall, it had been transformed into a full-service restaurant specializing in local and sustainable foods with a full bar and a design intended to make it not just a dining spot for hospital staff and visitors but also a gathering spot for the surrounding community.
The Central Table brand was developed by Morrison especially for the healthcare market and will be rolled out in several other Morrison-operated locations in the near future. The next to go live is expected to be at University of Miami Hospital this summer, and another one will open in a space currently occupied by a national branded restaurant concept in Kentucky later this year.
“I set it up to be an incubator of new ideas, new concepts as well as a training site for Morrison Healthcare, which is a lot different than what traditionally happens in healthcare,” says Cary Neff, vice president, corporate culinary support for the company, who led the design of Central Table’s concept. “It gives us the opportunity to serve whole, sustainable and consciously prepared foods inside the healthcare environment.”
At the same time, Neff adds, “I also feel strongly that it can’t be just be for the healthcare environment; it has to have the chops to stand along and compete with any other restaurateur.”
To that end, the menu includes a variety of fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, infused teas, grain and garden bowls featuring whole grains, seasonal vegetables, aromatic broths and hand-tossed greens. The menu will change with the seasons to take advantage of the freshest ingredients available on the market at each given time of the year.
“We’re using Central Table to provide new solutions inside the healthcare space, new innovation that will drive trends on nutritionally balanced and great-tasting food, but also foods with a purpose, what we call ‘culinary apothecary,’ which is food that works like medicine,” Neff explains.
He describes Central Table as a full fast-causal environment, similar to commercial concepts like Panera Bread and P.F. Chang. The space itself is light, rustic and airy, with warm reclaimed woods complementing light brick and stucco walls. Large windows allow plenty of light to flood through onto bistro tables and cushioned lounge areas.
The unit at Barnes Jewish Hospital is a full restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the Central Table concept is also adaptable to a smaller café offshoot that can be adapted into different spaces, Neff says. The Barnes location currently serves as a pilot site where training and experimentation can go on for developing the concept to fit other locations.
Aside from onsite dining, the Banes Central Table operation also offers catering. “The renovation allowed us to have these separate areas, so we have a table where we have private dining and can offer winemakers dinners,” Neff explains. “There’s also an exhibition station with a hearth oven where we provide cooking classes, and we also have catering spaces.”
Another important component of the Central Table concept is education, Neff emphasizes, so the restaurant’s self-order kiosk includes nutritional information about the various menu items for customers, while the electronic menu boards show not menus but educational messages about different foods.
“I want to show what great food looks like and what a balanced meal looks like and what the functional ingredient is and why it is important,” Neff says. “So while that patron is in line, we can educate him on ingredients and wellness.”