While it’s not unknown for a medical facility to host an upscale restaurant, few are as sophisticated as the Tower & Church Bistro inside WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Ga. The Bistro, now in its sixth year, offers regionally popular Southern cuisine with healthy Mediterranean influences such as the use of stocks and fresh herbs to infuse flavor while reducing the prevalence of less healthy ingredients like butter. Also, in a definite break with traditional Southern cooking, there is no fryer in the kitchen.
Tower & Church is a full-service restaurant with table service, though it also offers the option of less formal counter service choices for those in a hurry. Originally opened at the request of WellStar Health System President/CEO Candice Saunders, it is designed to offer staff and visitors a respite from the high-stress environment of the hospital.
Fine wood and stone in the décor help make Tower & Church a relaxing, comfortable place for stressed customers.
“The idea was to create an oasis [where visitors could go] without having to leave the hospital and a loved one, or for an employee to get away and relax,” explains Adam DeMartini, director of WellStar Restaurants, who is responsible for eight retail dining locations in system hospitals, including Tower & Church Bistro. “The intent was to really transcend the atmosphere of a normal healthcare environment: [The Bistro décor is] full of rich wood and stone; it’s a beautiful restaurant [in which] you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital.”
Tower & Church offers a standard menu that’s changed out seasonally, augmented with chef’s specials on a l’ardoise concept menu that features two entrée choices daily with two starch and vegetable side options for lunch and dinner. Meanwhile, the standard menu has several dozen choices ranging from soups (the house French onion is a signature item) and appetizers like grilled wings and Creole crabcake to salads, sandwiches, pizzas/calzones and entrees like blackened trout, shrimp and grits and grilled local grass-fed meatloaf.
Desserts come from an onsite bakeshop that also turns out breakfast pastries and breads from scratch.
The Tower & Church kitchen has worked hard to increase the number of organic and local ingredients it sources.
Pizza made in the brick pizza oven at Tower & Church is a popular menu item. Choices include standard and specialty formulations in either 10-inch personal or 14-inch large sizes.
“We utilize as much organic produce as we can and work with local farms to do as much farm to table as we can,” DeMartini says. “Partnering with local companies not only helps us be sustainable and helps society [as a whole] but lets our guests eat better.”
According to DeMartini, popular items on the regular menu include the pizzas from the brick pizza oven, the vegan cilantro lime wrap (romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grilled tofu and cilantro lime hummus in a whole-wheat wrap) and the avocado albacore tuna salad melt (served open faced on a toasted sourdough pain au levain with tomato and provolone cheese).
Breakfast is mostly counter service with diners able to move through the line and pick and choose among the l’ardoise options like daily special egg, potato and protein dishes, or they can get standard menu items like eggs Benedict or pancakes. Servers move around the seating area dispensing juice, busing tables and generally offering assistance, though full table service doesn’t start until the lunch period.
The hospital’s franchise deal with Starbucks is a definite draw in the morning, and early customers often take the opportunity to pair a Starbucks beverage with something from the onsite bakeshop.
The 130-seat Tower & Church is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week and totals about 800 to 900 covers on a typical weekday. While most of the traffic is drawn from inside the hospital, DeMartini says he’s noticed a growing number of diners coming in from the surrounding community, drawn by the opportunity to grab a delicious lunch or dinner at a modest price (entrees are in the $9 to $12 range while sandwiches, salads and personal pizzas are less).
The dinner business is also growing after a slow start.
“Dinner didn’t start out very popular but the staff worked hard to improve the situation and now we are seeing nice crowds, even on weekends,” DeMartini offers. He credits the growth in business to more familiarity with the venue and its unusual location.
“You wouldn’t think you’d find such a hidden gem, so to speak, in a hospital setting, so when people do find out about it they tend to come back.”