Nominator: Jim Crossin, Cura district manager-healthcare
“Mark manages at Phoebe Berks, a senior living continuing care retirement community in Wernersville, Pa., where Cura, Phoebe’s senior living and healthcare dining services partner, prepares and delivers more than just meals…they are sending messages, providing hope and smiles!
Mark manages a team including a team of 75, including 19 high school student servers from Conrad Weiser High School and Wilson High School who help to assemble 1,000 meals that are prepared fresh and delivered to resident doorsteps daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The students also draw messages on the to-go containers.
The day begins at 6 a.m. for the dining staff of 75. As the team gets ready to take 225 ‘phone-in’ meal orders from the residents as early as 7 a.m., Executive Chef Eric Shocket and Nate Phillips, sous chef, are very busy managing our back-of-the-house kitchen operations. Together, all day, they prep, dice, sauté, grill, cook and bake. They ensure our residents can select from several made-to-order options for breakfast and lunch including a variety of deli sandwiches and housemade chili! Home-cooked dinners always feature two specials that changes daily. A sample dinner menu is minestrone soup, smoked sausage, baked lemon pepper catfish fillet, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and spring vegetables. And, who can pass up desserts like cookies and pies baked fresh onsite like coconut custard and pecan! In addition to a traditional Easter dinner, the dining team will prepare themed dinners including a recent St. Louis Barbecue themed dinner featuring ribs, big butter beans and cornbread! ‘This is a special team. We have adult team members who work 12- to 13-hour days to make sure our residents are fed and well cared for,’ says Olszewski.
Themed dinners are Mark’s specialty. Prior to COVID-19, Mark offered a Taste and Travel America, a monthly dining series where seniors received a ticket for a virtual summer road trip all over the USA. Each month, Cura Hospitality chefs and cooks recreate the culinary traditions and trends of a different American city.
Guy Fieri’s hit show, ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,’ inspired Mark Olszewski to bring iconic road-trip grub into the comforts of home for residents. ‘Seniors aren’t able to get out much anymore, so wouldn’t it be fun to bring it to them. We build a menu around the different areas but it’s more of an event, too,’ Olszewski says. The first culinary road trip took residents to a fixture in Philadelphia since 1893, the Reading Terminal Market. Roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwiches inspired by the DiNic’s stall at the market (recently named the Best Sandwich in America by the Travel Channel) kicked off the series in a memorable way.
A culinary excursion to Kansas City took an unexpected turn (or twister) to the Emerald City, with a Wizard of Oz-themed meal. Emerald City salad represented the movie’s iconic switch to Technicolor, with oranges, pineapples, cherries, coconuts, pecans and mini marshmallows with a sweet cream sauce.
The menu for each ‘destination’ is split into two sections: food on one side and interesting facts on the other. For the Kansas City trip, on the other side of the menu was ‘fun facts you may not know about the Wizard of Oz,’ like the fact that Dorothy’s blue dress was originally pink.
When asked if it was a difficult transition to go from traditional sit-down meals and the former promotions to all to-go orders, Olszewski and his team never missed a beat as this was not the first, but the third dining transition this year. Just prior to the pandemic, over 130 independent residents were served their meals in the community’s auditorium due to an extensive front-of-the house renovation of their community dining rooms. The dining team currently is using the auditorium to assemble meals, but beginning next week, will move to the newly renovated dining areas for assembly. ‘We just go with the changes and make sure that the residents never think that their dining experience is compromised. We continue to prepare and serve a full menu and will try to accommodate anything they desire,’ says Olszewski.
Staples and other grocery items are also available for purchase through dining including milk, orange juice, iced tea, eggs, deli meat and salads by the pound, frozen Stauffer’s meals, breads sold by the loaf, freshly baked cookies, condiments and Turkey Hill ice cream…of course! ‘Our caring, young and responsible student workers will also grocery shop for other items. A group of seven students who take the grocery lists of 90 residents and grocery shop for them at the local Redner’s,’ says Mark.
Mark works very hard and manages a great team who support a very large community!”