John Knox Village in Lee's Summit, Mo., is more of a neighborhood than a retirement community. Situated on close to 400 acres, it provides multiple levels of care and residential styles from apartments, cottages, villas to homes. To feed the 1,000 residents that live on site as well as their guests, John Knox has an impressive dining program that operates five kitchens and 10 dining concepts.
“We're really serving multiple generations now—Baby Boomers all the way up to the Silent Generation,” says Todd Hollander, director of dining and event services. “Their wants and needs are a lot different, and that's why we've expanded our dining program so much, to really give them options to choose what they want to eat.”
Residents, who can eat anywhere on the property, have a dining credit as part of their monthly service fees but can also pay via cash, card or room charge at all dining locations. There’s a meal delivery program to bring food from each concept to their residence, and there’s also a dial-a-ride service to give them transportation to dining options around campus.
The concepts include Fireside cafeteria that offers rotating entrees such as chicken pot pie and turkey tetrazzini in addition to grill stations and a salad bar. There’s the Courtyard Café with full bar and patio seating that serves comfort food with a twist and innovative pizzas. Nearby, the Coffee Shoppe, which Hollander describes as a “Starbucks on steroids,” has breakfast tacos, specialty drinks, soups and a specialty honey ice cream, which is lower in sugar, lactose-free and from a local company.
“Tim Wells, who is over the Coffee Shoppe and Courtyard also is a certified chef introduced us to micro greens, and is really doing some different bold flavors such as croissants served with lavender butter,” says Hollander.
Lakeside Grille is a quick-service restaurant on the John Knox golf course, and there are three full-service restaurants: Stories Public House, Places Restaurant and Fireside Dining. Fine dining is offered at Metropolitan, the village’s newest restaurant that is open Thursday through Sunday for dinner and for special events.
While comfort food is always a favorite cuisine, Hollander says the trend in senior living dining has gone more global in flavor and is focused more on nutrition. “We've brought in a lot of international flavors. We have a tandoori chicken that's very popular. We've brought on a lot of new vegan and vegetarian items as well,” says Hollander.
To check in with the residents’ evolving food preferences, Hollander and his team do a bi-annual resident survey. “We also run four monthly food groups to discuss menu changes, special events and entrée specials,” says Hollander. “We have a couple residents that attend all four so that they can bring information back to their neighborhood group, and really share what's going on in the restaurants.”
The Courtyard Café
The food group discussions are open to any number of residents from any level of care. They can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and if there’s time, Hollander says he’ll also introduce a nutrition topic for discussion such as natural vs. artificial sweeteners.
With the residents’ input, the dining program is kept fresh with special action stations such as a breakfast bar one morning and a hot dog bar the following week. He also takes the lead from his staff’s unique backgrounds. “One of our cooks is from Jamaica so he did a whole Jamaican bar,” says Hollander. “We have a Mexican prep cook and so we did a made-from-scratch Mexican bar. His tamales were just outstanding.”
Other special events have included a Murder Mystery dinner, a Valentine’s Dinner and a Game Night that attracted 100 residents. “These special events change things up and expand palates,” says Hollander. “It all comes back to creating community, getting people out of their homes, working together, being together socializing and just really encouraging that camaraderie.”
Stories Public House
Looking back, Hollander says he noticed a shift in attitudes toward senior living dining back in 2009. “We've been able to really stay ahead of the curve, and move from ‘scoop and plop’ dining that was reminiscent of hospital food to more innovative cuisine and events as well as true restaurant dining,” says Hollander.
“Our philosophy is that if we can offer options and take care of the residents with pride,” says Hollander, “and if we instill that into the staff that has contact with residents on a daily basis, then we can deliver excellence. The financials will take care of themselves.”