Like other healthcare institutions around the country, University of North Carolina (UNC) REX Healthcare has had to institute emergency protocols to face the coronavirus crisis, which means extra pressure on its employees. To help ease that burden, the system’s culinary & nutrition services team has taken one of the retail cafés closed down by the crisis and made it a retail market called the Korner Market where employees can purchase staple foods, prepared meals like pizza and other necessary household items.
“Our department’s management team has a daily COVID-19 huddle at 9 a.m.,” Ryan Conklin, director and executive chef for Culinary & Nutrition Services, explains about the origin of the initiative. “We were discussing all of the unique things that currently closed restaurants were doing to stay afloat. It then morphed into a conversation about how all the supermarkets were running out of basic necessities, and we still had access to them from our suppliers. [So we figured,] let’s sell them to our co-workers! We can even do curbside delivery if we used one of our cafés.”
That conversation took place on Monday, March 23, and Korner Market opened for business that Thursday the 26th.
“We went old school and created a buzz by placing flyers on every car in the parking deck,” Conklin notes. The department also issued email notifications to UNC REX staff.
The inventory consists of regularly procured SKUs for which there is a need, Conklin explains.
“We went through our storerooms and coolers and looked at what we currently purchase,” he says. “What do we have that people are struggling to get in a supermarket right now? We are selling only things that we currently order, so there is no over ordering or waste.”
The items are priced at cost plus a set percentage up to cover labor and packaging.
“Prices are still in line, if not cheaper, than what people can find in the stores at this point though,” Conklin notes. Orders can be placed online or through a market phone line.
He says reaction has been very favorable, with “tons of thank-you emails, and praise for our team who have stepped up in such a critical time to make our hospital co-workers stressful lives more convenient right now.”
On the first day, Korner Market filled 110 orders and has been averaging around 75 per day since with an order average of around $40. The most popular items have included (no surprise) toilet paper, followed closely by ground beef, chicken breast and the culinary team’s own take-and-bake pizzas. The market also offers produce items like chopped romaine, green beans and bananas, deli meats and cheeses and dairy products such as milk, yogurt and butter.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]