The Big Idea 2014: Food truck reaches underserved customers

Wren Roberts 
Managing Director, Support Services
Central Health System, Lynchburg, Va.

The Centra Nutrition Group recently launched our very own food truck, called Code Fresh. The truck serves a few roles. First, we provide retail café services to Centra employees who work offsite in facilities that don’t have access to a café. Second, we use the truck on weekends for community events. Third, it serves as a component of Centra’s disaster response team.

Centra Health is made up of four acute care hospitals and four long-term care facilities, along with ambulatory care sites and medical offices. The idea for Code Fresh came from us considering how to provide retail operations for a growing employee base.

Centra employees receive a 25% discount in our foodservice operations as one of their benefits; employees at these outlying facilities couldn’t take advantage of that perk because there was no model at these locations to support a standard kitchen. So they had to drive somewhere to get a meal.

We had two requirements to meet: The program had to be cashless and it had to be a profitable model. After a lengthy discussion we settled on the food truck model.

We call the truck Code Fresh to tie it to the hospital’s mission. You hear in hospitals all the time “code blue” or “code red.” We used Code Fresh because all of our items are made fresh to order.

The truck operates Monday through Friday, although it is becoming a six-day-a-week operation. Virginia Baptist Hospital is the truck’s home base. We begin loading the truck at 7 a.m., and it is ready to leave at 10 a.m. Our first stop is at 11 a.m., at a medical office building. We stay there until 11:45 a.m., then head to the Pearson Cancer Center, from 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The menu comes from the Crossroads concept in our main café, which is primarily wraps and salads. We do between 75 and 90 covers a day, with an average check of $4.25. The truck uses 1.5 FTEs; one person comes in at 7 a.m. and a second employee joins him at 10 a.m.

On the weekends there are a variety of things we can do with the truck. We can do wellness-related events. We can do food demos in some of Lynchburg’s “food deserts.” We have even done a wine festival. And then, for events like weather-related disasters, Code Fresh gives us a mobile response.

The truck has been successful enough that we are looking to expand to two more locations.

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