Starting Fresh

Hospital relocation allows foodservice to rebrand nutrition program.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Making pizza at the new cafeteria at Elmhurst Memorial
Hospital.

ELMHURST, Ill.—This spring, 259-bed Elmhurst Memorial Hospital relocated three miles south of the location where the hospital had stood for the past 85 years. The move created the opportunity for the food and nutrition department to rebrand its program, which is highlighted by the Wildflower Café.

“One of the things that I had looked at very early on in the design phase was I wanted to brand our café. I didn’t want it to be dietary or cafeteria,” says Dave Reeves, director of hospitality services. “I thought in healthcare there were a lot of places that when they opened up a new facility they lacked in some of those [branding] types of things.”

Developing an identity: To create the department’s brand Reeves and the hospital’s marketing team opened up the creative process to the foodservice employees. The department’s coordinator came up with the idea of a wildflower, which was selected and used to create the brand, the Wildflower Café. The brand is used for anything that relates to foodservice, including Wildflower Catering, Wild-flower Vending and Wild-flower Room Service.

Reeves says the wildflower concept was selected because it fit with the hospital’s overall design, which was built in the Prairie School style that was most notably used by Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived in Oak Park, Ill., not far from Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. “We were thinking of names along the lines of prairie, and wildflower seemed like a real neat fit,” Reeves says.

A logo of a wildflower with a stained glass background was developed. The logo is featured prominently throughout the café, including on digital menu boards.

“One of the greatest things the architects and designers have done is they’ve carried through in the café all of the design elements that have been used in the rest of the hospital,” Reeves says. “They didn’t cut back when it came to the café. It really looks nice. It complements the rest of the hospital.

“When visitors come into the café, the first thing they are going to see is that it is large and very open,” Reeves adds. “One of the [hallmarks] of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School architecture is it really emphasizes squares and rectangles. There is not a lot of curvature. You won’t see any curvatures in our café. It’s very boxlike, and that’s intentional. The first thing you see when you walk in is the deli bar and you can see the whole overview of the café. We’ve intentionally kept everything low. We didn’t want to have anything hanging in the café that would obstruct the view. So when you walk in you can actually see through the whole place and see all the way around. We’ve got lots of glass. We have very neutral colors, which is very similar to the rest of the hospital. There is lots of wood, which carries out through the rest of the hospital as well.”

Getting around: The Wildflower Café, which opened May 31, is set up in stations, including a deli bar, salad bar, wok station, grill area, brick oven—where pizzas, calzones and breads are baked—and a carvery station for carved-to-order meats and other comfort-type foods. The café also offers grab-and-go items.

One of the focal points in the new café is the use of display cooking, which Reeves says he wasn’t able to take full advantage of at the old location due to the facility’s limitations.

“Display cookery has really been one of the highlights of the hospital that people come in for,” he says. “Looking at the old place [compared] to the new facility, it’s one of the things that has changed the most drastically. The menu at the new location is completely different. It’s an entirely different facility. There are some things that we’ve taken over that are the same type of items, but virtually everything has been either improved or redone. Before what you would see is that a lot of the things were cooked, held in a warming oven and then plated and served. Now we are able to do the display cooking and we are able to have essentially a fully functioning kitchen right in front of our customers’ eyes.”

Display cooking is used at the wok station, which features mostly Asian entrées, at the carvery, in the grill area where sandwiches are assembled to order, and at the deli/salad bar area where Sizzling Salads are featured as a special every day. A Sizzling Salad could be something like a Greek Mediterranean salad with steak or a chicken Caesar salad.

“We do final cooking to order,” Reeves says. “We’re not having any issues with wait times or anything, so people are really pleased so far. We could cook and plate up the same thing and put it in the refrigerator and it would just not have that same appeal. A lot of it is the aesthetics of it and seeing it cooked in front of you.”

Reeves tried to pilot many of the new café initiatives at the old location to see if they would work well enough to design into the new café. “With the Sizzling Salads we did that at the old hospital and we found out that was something that people really liked. When it came to the design phase we said that was something that we really needed to incorporate [at the new hospital]. Albeit we couldn’t do it at the level that we are doing it now [at the old hospital]. We were taking an old area and trying to modify it to make it work, where this is designed into it. We knew that the Sizzling Salads and the sandwiches at the deli would be popular. It has just been even more popular than we thought.”

Reeves says that since opening the hospital’s retail operations sales have increased immediately. “On an annualized basis, we are looking at the entire food program is probably double what we had at the old place,” he added.

Coffee house: Another new addition to the foodservice’s footprint is a 1,100-square-foot Starbucks franchise. The store is operated by the hospital’s foodservice employees.

“We thought about doing something like a Dave’s Coffee Shop, but we didn’t think it would have the brand recognition that Starbucks does,” Reeves says. “I was really big into trying everything [at the old hospital] before we designed it, and this was one of those things that we looked at trying at the old facility, but it was cost prohibitive. It was something that we bet on, and if the future is any indication on what we’ve done so far, it really is going to be a winner.”

In addition to serving coffee, the Starbucks offers the full line of hot foods served at outside Starbucks stores, including sandwiches and pastries. There also is soft seating for customers, which Reeves says when coupled with the coffee-shop atmosphere has created a favorite respite area. “It’s really been a nice place for people to come and have meetings in there,” he adds. “That’s really what it was intended to be. It’s a gathering social place, and people can for a moment get away from the busyness of the hospital.”

The Starbucks also serves as the late-night dining operation. The Starbucks operates between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. for regular service. Third-shift service runs between 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Reeves says late-night service used to operate out of the café at the old hospital, and the change has taken a while for some customers to get used to. “There are some people who have the expectation of having a lot of food [to select from],” he says. “We couldn’t justify opening the larger café for the 60 or 70 people who come through at night. Starbucks makes it a perfect spot for that.”

Reeves says the transition to the new program and the new hospital has gone relatively smoothly. One change he is looking into making is opening the café earlier. The Wildflower Café is currently open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. during the week and between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The café opened at 6:30 a.m. on holidays and weekends at the old hospital, and Reeves says they may return to the old opening time due to customer demand.

The foodservice department also changed from a traditional trayline to room service.