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Management at the newly opened St. John Health Plaza Café credit their “dream team” staff with the success they've termed “beyond our expectations.” A sense of ownership sets this staff apart, the leadership agrees.

The café, in St. John Medical Center, Tulsa, OK, which was closed for eight months last year during remodeling, opened in January. During those eight months, the café staff filled in at other foodservice operations on the medical campus, but also spent time developing a strong sense of ownership of the new café, says Miriam Young, chef leader.

“Every afternoon during the remodeling, we brought the staff back together,” Young says. “We all cooked recipes and critiqued them. If we didn't like it as a group, it didn't go on the menu. Everyone has an investment.”

The management in turn invested in the staff. Professional development opportunities were identified and schedules were modified to allow for cooks to advance to the next level on the “cook's ladder,” for instance. “It's important for people to get training,” Young says.

Trips for staff to farmers' markets, restaurants, and special food tastings also fostered a sense of ownership, and led to a common vision that ties the operation together, says dietary manager Linda Branch. “When Miriam and I met, we discovered that we're both foodies,” she says. “We wanted to share that with the staff.”

The St. John's staff is very diverse, from all walks of life and different backgrounds. A shared love of food and hospitality bonds them together, says Janet Potts, RD, director of food and nutrition services. As a result, “they all want to be there,” Potts says. “Linda and Miriam have set the bar high with their expectations.”

The new healthy food choices have an emphasis on fresh, seasonal and global tastes, and the spring menu was very well-received, Potts says. A summer menu with lighter fare is just around the corner. Among the current parade of hits: low-calorie enchiladas, delicate truffles, and unusual soups with ingredients like sweet potatoes.

The café also features custom prepared rice bowls and grilled cheese sandwiches with a customer's choice of grilled vegetables. Many of the components, like salsa, are made onsite every day and spices are ground fresh. “This is the closest to our own restaurant that we'll probably get,” Branch says. “We wanted to get away from typical hospital food.”

The menu is, of course, vital to the success of the café, but, according to Young, “The people you select to run your operation are the most important selections you'll make.”

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