Retail dining in medical facilities has taken a beating over the pandemic period as customer counts plummet due to many administrative staffers working offsite, visitors being limited or barred, outpatients using tele-health services rather than coming to the facility and well-intentioned good Samaritans offering free food to staff, undercutting onsite meal sales. Nevertheless, a market continues to exist for quality, nutritious onsite foodservice in healthcare environments, and it is one that Loma Linda University Health in California is determined to serve with the cafeteria in its spectacular new Dennis & Carol Troesh Medical Campus.
The Troesh campus opened last summer with a state-of-the-art 16-story adult hospital tower with 320 licensed beds and a 9-story children’s hospital tower expansion that adds 84 licensed pediatric beds to Loma Linda’s existing children’s hospital operation. Among the features are all private patient rooms, separate emergency rooms for adults and children and the new cafeteria.
“We designed [the cafeteria] to be really functional for people who need to get in and out quickly, but also have the option of being able to walk around and look at things with our beautiful, open floor plan,” says Jean Sellers, executive director of nutritional services for Loma Linda University Health. In addition to its food, the cafeteria offers an attractive, serene dining area with bamboo pillars, soft lighting and pictures of colorful foods, plus additional outdoor patio seating.
The cafeteria menu is all meatless in accordance with the principles of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, while the patient menu does offer meats other than pork and shellfish. The lack of meat ingredients has not limited the appeal of the new cafeteria menu, however, though the program did have to make some other adjustments due to current conditions occasioned by the pandemic and its aftereffects.
Plans for the new Troesh tower cafeteria originally called for a series of action stations where staff would create customized dishes for diners, along with already-made and ready-to-take selections for those in a hurry, Sellers explains.
However, because of the current staffing challenge, “not all of our [serving] stations are open yet,” she notes, “so what we’ve done is created bars with hot and cold ingredients where customers can build their own. That has been very well received.”
The bars cycle through one station location and offer a rotation of self-serve concepts such as a potato bar, a falafel bar, a pasta bar and the locally popular “haystack” bar, which lets customers build a kind of taco salad or tostada style dish incorporating corn or tortilla style chips with vegetarian “meat”, beans, lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsas that customers build to their own preferences.
The bars are permitted to operate on a self-serve model as long as everything is changed out at least once every two hours per state regulations, Sellers explains, adding that since everything is changed out every time a pan is replenished, that requirement is satisfied far more frequently than every two hours.
The bars are “one of the compromises we had to make as we don’t have the staff to make things to order for customers, but they’ve actually turned into one of our more popular [offerings],” Sellers says, noting that “the rotation at the one location allows us flexibility and also gives additional variety for customers.”
In addition to the bar concept rotation, the Troesh cafeteria also currently offers a Chibata station where diners can custom order sandwiches, salads and wraps, and a grill with a set menu of different sandwiches and meatless burgers incorporating either house-made patties or commercial choices like Garden Burgers.
Last but not least among the currently open outlets is a wellness station that serves pre-made meals with 400-500 calories for customers who want a delicious meal with a set calorie count at an economical price point of around $4.00-$4.20. Selections include various bowl meals such as a burrito bowl, a bibimbap bowl, a spring roll bowl and an avocado bowl.
“It’s truly a value meal in which they get all their calories, protein and other good nutrients in one meal,” Sellers notes.
The cafeteria also offers plenty of grab and go gourmet salads, sandwiches and wraps in double-sided coolers that dining staff replenish from the back as customers retrieve their choices from the servery-facing front.
Yet to debut are a panini station that will serve hot sandwiches, and a pizza station with its own oven that will serve both pre-made/ready-to-take individual pizzas and pizza slices as well as individual pies made to order. Sellers says the goal is to open these concepts by the end of February following the engagement and training of sufficient staff.
In the morning, a highly popular choice is the various breakfast burritos.
“The great thing is that they are relatively easy to prepare so we can get a lot of customers through really quickly, and I think that has also added to their popularity,” Sellers suggests. “Customers really like them not only because of their flavor and variety, but they are quick, so you can just walk up, grab it and literally go cash out.”
The Troesh cafeteria currently operates between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., which Sellers would like to expand back to the originally intended 6 a.m. to midnight schedule.
“Due to staffing challenges to have more stations open, we reduced our hours,” she explains, “but once we get additional staff, the goal is to go back to [staying open until] midnight.”
Another change in dining brought on by the new Troesh towers was the debut of room service patient dining, which operates from a new production kitchen in the complex and is available between 6 a.m. and 9:15 p.m., with the last orders delivered by 10 p.m. Dining staff serves all meals except those to isolation patients, where the task is handled by nurses. Patients can either call in their meal orders or work through diet aides who come to bedsides with iPads.
In contrast to Loma Linda’s previous volume production trayline approach to patient meal service, the room service meals at Troesh are prepared fresh and sent up quickly.
“We can do meals literally in a minute with our TurboChef oven, and patients blown away with how quickly they get these freshly prepared dishes,” Sellers says.
While meat-based dishes are available to patients—in fact, a marinaded citrus salmon dish is one of the most popular on the patient menu—the overall lacto-ovo-vegetarian approach to dining practiced exclusively in the retail end and preponderantly on the patient dining end at Loma Linda University Health has allowed the program to promote the benefits of a plant-based diet, Sellers notes.
“For us to have this fantastic new cafeteria that lets guests taste vegetarian food that’s not only delicious but affordable not only separates us from local restaurants but gives us a great opportunity to educate how you can quickly make things with fresh vegetables and whole grain pastas and other items—and with no meat,” she adds.
Here’s a photo tour of the new cafeteria complex at the Troesh Medical Campus…