FSD Goes to Washington, D.C.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Beginning this month, FSD is hitting the road. Every other month, we’ll visit cities around the U.S., looking for innovators in foodservice from among our readers. Where better to start our journey than the home of our federal government? D.C., here we come.

U.S. House of Representatives
The Greening of the Capitol

Foodservice at US CongressWhen the Democrats won the majority in the House of Representatives last year, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made a commitment to “green the Capitol” and the House Office Buildings’ eight foodservice operations became a vital part of her initiatives. After Congress’ holiday break, the cafeterias and several retail outlets in Cannon, Rayburn and Longworth office buildings—as well as a 60-seat Capitol café and a 140-seat members-only dining room—opened, complete with a new look, healthier fare, greener business practices and a new foodservice management firm. Restaurant Associates took over the contract late last year and was charged with the task of integrating Pelosi’s “greening” measures into the House’s foodservice.

Combined, the House Office Buildings employ about 7,000 people. Mary Bowman, regional director for RA at the House, says her department serves about 8,225 meals during breakfast and lunch. Longworth has the largest cafeteria, and the renovation gave it a sleek, minimalist design—stainless steel serveries with clean angles, LCD screens, display cooking stations—all built with green principles in mind. RA replaced the old U-shaped salad bar with a new double-sided bar and added new signage for every station complemented by LCD screens. The salad bar, soup counters and recycling center countertops all were made from 100% recycled glass. At Goodies, the House’s c-store, the floor is made from bamboo, and the paint used in each location releases one-third fewer volatile organic compounds than regular paint. Also part of the “greening” efforts is the café’s use of large recycling stations, biodegradable flatware and dishware. Bowman says teaching customers how to dispose of the new flatware and dishware has been a challenge because some find it hard to believe that so many of the disposable items are biodegradable. The House Office Buildings also uses an on-site pulper/compost machine, which reduces waste to 10% of its original volume. Bowman says the composting program contributes to what she sees as her responsibility to reduce waste. She says with the new signage, the time it takes to sort the waste before composting has decreased.

The cafeterias’ menus were also in need of an update to promote Pelosi’s mandate of creating an “environmentally responsible and healthy working environment.” The House is using Compass Group’s ‘Balanced Choices’ program, which denotes items that are lean, produced locally, vegetarian, dairy-free and/or high in calcium or fiber with tags on each item. Bowman says she also chose items from RA’s FIT line. FIT is a specially designed menu that offers items with fewer than 450 calories and low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Some of the popular FIT menu items at the House are a salad with Bibb lettuce, poached salmon and a roasted tomato ginger dressing, and roasted chicken with zucchini and a lemon-yogurt sauce on a pita. Bowman says they have received a lot of positive feedback on the menu, especially regarding the locally produced ice cream, which is available at The Creamery, a retail location  in the Longworth building, as well as the all-natural burgers and homemade french fries available in Cannon.

“We are seeing about a 10% increase in sales right now, but I expect that to improve the longer we are here,” Bowman says.

FoodService Director - Washington, DC - Capitol - Providence HospitalWith RA’s acquisition of the contract, Bowman says they also implemented a different quick pay system—managed by FreedomPay. The system allows participants to fund their accounts on the Internet and they can replace cards online, unlike the Capitol’s previous system where if a card was lost, so too was its balance. RA’s vice president of marketing, Gina Zimmer, says the House Office Buildings contract has been different from a typical RA contract because every management decision has the possibility of being spun in a political context. Several news outlets reported some opposing members of the House’s comments about the capitol’s “greening” and healthy eating efforts. 

“Since the ‘green the Capitol’ initiative was coming from Speaker Pelosi, there were critics commenting on all her initiatives, and the changes in foodservice were some of them. What is unique about that location is there is more interest in the decisions that are made because everything could potentially have a political reason for happening,” Zimmer says. “Everything we did was subject to that scrutiny. We weren’t used to that—not having worked in a political atmosphere before—but our client guided us and gave us clear direction.”  Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer, says the House couldn’t be happier with the changes RA implemented.

“We have heard anecdotally from many staffers that they are extremely appreciative of the improvements to our foodservice,” Ventura says. “We have seen people respond favorably to not only the food but also to the quick pay. The participation level was astounding. We’re up to 50% enrollment in a very short time.”

Providence Hospital
Changes in Store for 147-year-old Hospital

Providing meals for the oldest continuously operating hospital in D.C. is no easy task. But for 19 years, Director of Food and Nutrition Beth Yesford has been making the job look easy at the 408-bed Providence Hospital. The complex, which includes a long-term care facility and a behavioral health rehabilitation facility, is on the verge of making major changes to improve its foodservice.

FoodService Director - Washington, DC - Capitol - Providence HospitalIn many ways, Yesford believes hospitals are similar to hotels, so she thinks it’s important to change the focus of her foodservice program and change the type of food she serves to give customers more choices. Yesford says she is in the process of reworking the menu as well as preparing for a renovation of the cafeteria’s serving area. Combined, these two changes will aid her department in achieving its goal of offering more variety.

Foodservice at Providence consists of a main cafeteria and a coffee bar, as well as a café and several resident dining rooms at Providence’s 250-bed long-term care facility. One of the recent changes to Yesford’s program was a facelift of the main cafeteria’s seating area. Yesford says during the renovation some walls were removed to create a feeling of openness. Booths were reupholstered, new floors were installed, and the seating area was painted and an ATM was installed. Yesford says within the next two months, the café’s serving area will undergo a similar renovation, complete with a new salad bar, grill/broiler station and air curtain refrigerators. Overall the renovations will cost about $350,000 when complete.

“The dining room is a retreat for families and associates, and they need to feel good about their environment,” Yesford says. “So we tried to create a haven, or a retreat for employees while they’re on break.”

As for the menu, Yesford says her department has been working to give their customers more choices. Along with the traditional pizza, hot entrées and salad bars, the café added a daily display station about a year ago, where a chef prepares items like stir-fry, paninis, pastas and salads to order. Yesford says her department is in the process of introducing healthier dishes. Nutrition information is posted on some of the menu items to help customers make healthier choices, but Yesford admits her department needs to do more.

“We’ve tried to take fried chicken off the menu but every time we do we get ‘boo hoos’ from customers. So we try to have a baked and fried item every day,” Yesford says. “One day it will be a baked fish and fried chicken and the next it will be the opposite. We also have a vegetarian option every day.” In November, the cafeteria held a Diabetes Month to try out some of its healthier recipes. Each week, the menu offered items geared toward a diabetic menu such as a tuna sandwich on seven-grain bread. During Diabetes Month, the cafeteria offered a punch card where customers could earn a free meal after purchasing 10 of the recommended healthy meals.

FoodService Director - Washington, DC - Capitol - Providence HospitalWith all the menu changes Yesford wants to make, she decided she needed to be more selective when hiring cooks, preferring those who have worked in restaurants or hotels. She says the department has been trying to get creative with recruiting by placing its own advertisements at colleges, universities and other organizations. Yesford believes hiring staff from retail locations will work better for her because the skills they’ve honed in retail can transfer to the healthcare field, where they’ll benefit from more traditional hours.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Yesford says.

Another new endeavor for Yesford is a traveling cart service. Beginning this month, staff will take around a cart, stocked with goodies, to serve between meals to patients, visitors, staff and doctors.

“We will go around and basically do suggestive selling. If they can’t come down to us, we’re going out to them to see if they will buy something off the cart,” Yesford says. Another addition to the operation, which was designed to grab visitors who don’t make it to the cafeteria, is Providence’s lobby coffee bar. The coffee bar brews Starbucks coffee and sells muffins, cookies, chips and other snacks as well as juices and other beverages. Yesford says the bar is only about a year old and has been a big hit.

“Since we’re not on the ground floor, there are visitors who don’t know we are here, so we can capture them with the coffee bar,” Yesford says. “Coffee has such a high profit margin that the bar has done extremely well.”

Alexandria City Public Schools
Foodservice Shines in New Facility

About 20 minutes south of D.C., in Virginia, Alexandria City Public School District’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services Becky Bays is responsible for feeding about 10,000 students in 17 schools every day. One of the jewels in ACPS’ crown is the new T.C. Williams High School, an environmentally friendly building that opened last fall.

At the heart of this $88-million facility is its 850-seat cafeteria. With high ceilings, exposed ductwork, a “green” roof and an abundance of natural light, the cafeteria was designed with the 2,100 students in mind. Bays says the students voiced a desire for a dining space that didn’t feel like school.

“The wall art is contemporary, and even though it represents T.C. student life, it is not academic looking,” Bays says. “Also, the kids said the natural light, which is in all the classrooms and elsewhere, keeps them more alert through the day.”

Traditionally, T.C. Williams had an open campus for lunch, and Bays sold about 400 to 450 reimbursable meals per day. When the new building opened, the administration decided to close campus. As a result, Bays has been selling more than 1,000 reimbursable meals a day, plus a significant increase in à la carte sales. When campus was closed, the lunch periods changed from three, hour-long lunch periods to four, 30-minute lFoodService Director - Washington, DC - Capitol - Providence Hospitalunch periods. Bays set a goal to get the kids served in about eight minutes, so they still have enough time to eat and socialize. With the cafeteria feeding and seating so many more students, she says the atmosphere became really important, hence the addition of different seating options—booths, high tables—large windows and separate dining areas to create the space kids wanted.

The servery is divided into six stations arranged in a food court style. The stations include a Latin concept called Café del Sol, an International Marketplace, the Titan Grill (burgers) and pizza, deli and à la carte lines. The menu offers about 19 different main dishes daily, and she introduces new items regularly. The cafeteria’s seating area is split into three sections: one main area, a quiet dining section for students who want to study and an outdoor patio area for seniors. 

Mark Burke, director of planning and construction for ACPS, says the building is striving for a LEED Silver certification because of its use of natural light as well as a “green” roof that recycles rainwater, which is used for air conditioning, toilets and irrigation. Burke says they hope to grow fresh herbs on the “green” roof that could be used in the kitchen. Other environmentally friendly features include motion sensors on lights, waterless urinals to reduce water usage, use of 100% recycled air and HCFC-free refrigeration.

Bays says her department has made efforts to offer healthier items for the past five years by buying fresh vegetables and eliminating trans fats in all cafeteria foods, as well as in vending items. But she is also working to make even more of a difference as part of the School Nutrition Association of Virginia. As a member of the association’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee, she is trying to get state legislators to add budget amendments that would provide more funding for school meals. Bays says Virginia’s schools receive no funding for breakfast, even though breakfast is required for schools who have more than 25% free and reduced eligible students—Bays has 51%. Additionally, Bays is keeping a close watch on bills, which are working their way through Virginia’s legislative committees that would require all competitive foods sold during the school day to meet the Virginia Governor’s Scorecard nutrition standards. The standards state that foods must have no more than 30% of calories from fat, no more than 10% total calories from saturated fat and no more than 35% by weight of sugar added. Most of Bays’ entrées and à la carte items already meet the scorecard’s standards.

The school also has a large recycling program, and Burke says they will be able to recycle, reuse or redistribute more than 92% of the waste materials from the demolition of the old T.C. Williams building. Elsewhere in the district, Bays has several other schools with active composting programs.

Bays says one of the biggest challenges was moving into the new building. She runs a 12-month operation with a large summer feeding program, so there was no break during the move from the old building to the new one.