New café boosts retail business for Iowa hospital

New café boosts retail business for Iowa hospital

Regional 99-bed facility's dining department also serves attached senior living units and MOW program.

St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, Iowa, seems like a small community hospital, but that can be deceiving. While the licensed bed count is only 99, the dining operation produces as many as 900 meals a day in total.

“Even with a patient census of 40 or 50 in the hospital, we’re still a pretty active foodservice department,” boasts Matt Loneman, the hospital’s food and nutrition director.

There are several reasons for that. One is that the hospital complex incorporates a 79-bed nursing home “literally about 20 feet from my door,” Loneman says, which the dining department services. The complex also has 50 independent living apartments and is planning an assisted living facility as well.

The independent living units have full kitchens, but it’s not uncommon for the St. Anthony kitchen to prepare and deliver meals to the units or for the residents to patronize the hospital’s retail café. The kitchen also supplies about 80 senior Meals On Wheels meals each day that are delivered by volunteers from the community or served in a congregate dining center.

However, it is the retail café, a brand-new facility called Café St. Anthony that opened earlier this year, that has made the biggest impact on the in-house foodservice operation, accounting for nearly half the meals Loneman’s department serves daily.

Café St. Anthony replaced an antiquated café dating from the late 1960s that had a single-line design completely at odds with modern dining preferences.

“My children at school had a better option than our guests here,” Loneman quips.

The salad bar area at the new St. Anthony Cafe.

The new café is not only modern but also in a better location. As part of the renovation project, the retail dining operation took over what had been conference room space, while the old cafeteria space is now occupied by administrative offices. Meanwhile, the conference operation has moved to a dedicated new wing where Loneman’s department also handles the catering.

“Before, [the cafeteria] was down a long hallway toward our nursing home that wasn’t centrally located for our patients, guests and employees,” explains Loneman. Now, it’s right next to the main elevator bank, “a great spot for retail [with] great visibility,” says Loneman.

And great food.

Instead of the old two-sided salad bar that was one of the old cafeteria’s mainstays, the new Café St. Anthony boasts a 24-foot island with stone tops, refrigeration and combination hot and cold wells that is the venue’s most popular stop.

“It gives us much greater versatility, capacity and merchandising space,” Loneman offers. “So we’re moving toward doing not just oatmeal but a top-your-own oatmeal bar. We’ve also done a lot of top-your-own south-of-the-border selections and those have been big hits. They select what they want and pay according to weight or size.”

The salad bar component of the island is also more robust in what it offers, with four greens choices instead of just the single iceberg lettuce option.

Popular salad bar options include a roasted corn and bean mix and fresh-cut vegetables taken as either salad components or as separate finger foods.

The dressing options now emphasize vinaigrettes rather than the traditional heavier choices though a few like French and ranch still hang around, Loneman concedes. “But we are definitely seeing a shift toward the healthier oil-based [dressings].”

Protein choices include turkey, ham, hard-boiled egg and either fajita or grilled chicken breast.

Another popular stop in Café St. Anthony is the grill that in addition to burgers also offers items like pork tenderloin and chicken breast. Loneman says it will also be moving into made-to-order omelets.

St. Anthony Food

There’s a pizza station that serves a very popular breakfast pizza, usually in the morning, but it occasionally crops up as a special in other dayparts.

The café’s mix also includes a panini station—the Reuben panini is a favorite—and an entrée station.

There is also a lot more grab and go for busy hospital staff who prefer to eat at their stations.

Hospital employees remain the bulk of the customer base, but about a fifth of the business is now “non-employee,” as Loneman terms it. They include visitors seeing patients or meeting staff and residents from the senior living areas nearby, but also an increasing number of walk-ins from outside.

“We have noticed since our opening a definite uptick in people coming just to visit because they haven’t seen it and it’s completely new in the community,” Loneman offers. “It looks like a very nice restaurant, completely modern.”

Good word of mouth has helped market the café, though it has not been formally advertised. “I’ve noticed several business leaders having a business lunch here and we had not seen them before,” Loneman notes. “We also have some groups of retired people who want to come and meet here in the afternoon, something that hasn’t happened before.”

He says summer has traditionally been a slower time in the hospital’s retail dining operation, but this year business has been way up, and he hopes that means even more business as the colder weather sets in if traditional patterns hold.

Certainly the café’s location doesn’t hurt, being just inside the main entrance.

You can’t miss it when you walk in, Loneman says, “and even if you don’t see it, your nose will know it’s there.”

The project team responsible for the new café included Loneman, St Anthony Hospital President/CEO Ed Smith Jr. and VP/CFO John Munson, Clinical Dietitian Manager Michelle Scranton and Café and Food Production Manager Jessie Venner. Horty Elving/Wold Co. was the architect and The Graham Group, Inc. was the construction firm.

Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @MikeBuzalka


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