A senior living community gets a holistic makeover

Kelsey Nash, Digital Editor

demo kitchen

Josh Eggeman thought he was coming to Waupaca, Wis.-based Bethany in 2011 with one mission: to change the culture of the senior living center’s dining team. And while transforming what he calls “your standard cafeteria-style nursing home foodservice department” to one with more of a hospitality focus was no short order, that ask was complicated when a large-scale renovation became part of his purview.

As that initial culture shift was getting underway, Bethany also began eyeing a $25 million expansion project to both change the layout of its existing facility and add a new building. Blueprints were finalized in summer 2015, and “[we’ve] been in construction ever since,” says Eggeman, who started as a consultant and came on full time as Bethany’s director of food and beverage in 2012.

Throughout the process, the department has seen a complete transformation, with team members who now embody positivity and teamwork, he says, and who have also become close with residents and guests. Here’s how.

1. Trading spaces

pines guest room

The expansion brought about renovations to the functionality of the entire foodservice department. Before Eggeman came on board, there was only one option when it came to dining—a “big full meal with dessert,” he says. Bethany’s traditional dining room was converted into a full-service restaurant prior to the major overhaul, and later, with the help of Plunkett Raysich Architects and Stewart Design Associates, its main kitchen was redone and several new eateries were put into place. (The expansion effort was broken up into three phases, the last of which, as of publication time, was slated to wrap up by the end of 2017.)

“Our CEO and board of directors put a lot of faith in me and really let me run wild and reinvent our dining program from a hospitality perspective,” says Eggeman, who developed the concepts with help from his dining team.

2. Appealing to all

before shot

Bethany’s mealtimes underwent a similar shift toward decentralization. In the past, residents were often out of luck if they missed a mealtime, Eggeman says, but with staggered operating hours—Fireside Grill is open “all day, every day,” and Bleu Barn from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.—diners can grab a bite at their convenience.

The addition of cash registers has aided that transformation, as outside guests and staff dining at Bethany aren’t dependent on a receptionist at the front desk to give them a meal ticket, Eggeman says. All told, Bethany’s dining team serves up to 500 meals daily.

3. Stuck in their ways?

bar lounge

Still, not all parties were on board with the changes at first. Many Bethany residents were angry with the team initially, says Mary Schumacher, who has been on staff for just over a year and was promoted to director of food and beverage in late 2017. (Eggeman is transitioning out of the role to focus on consultancy.) Several menu items had been axed, and folks grumbled about construction noise and other renovation-related annoyances.

To help shift attitudes, the dining team put some power back in residents’ hands by giving sneak peeks of the new menus and concept logos, taking time to explain the changes and holding monthly meetings with an in-house dining committee that acted as a liaison between the dining department and residents. “I’ve learned quite a few things from being here; [healthcare] is a new industry for me,” says Eggeman, who previously worked in commercial venues.

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