Daphne Gulick: Food Lover, Leader

Her responsibility is to continue to review their operations and bring in the Masonic Village systems for ultimate efficiency, thus avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel at each site. But no matter the degree of cost-cutting, Gulick has an agreement with her CEO that the savings get put back into the menu.

In 2000, Gulick implemented advanced meal production and delivery systems. "We love the technology," she asserts. "We've reduced 20 full-time equivalent positions on the production and delivery sides combined; that reduction of staff was the only way we could afford the system, and I believe the food quality is better than before. We still have to ship food, but we built the new production center, close to a $4 million project, attached to the largest customer facility and now ship 90% (of food used) to healthcare, 80% to residential living and 40% (mostly soups and sauces) to our retirement-living customers."

Cook-chill has been a dominant factor since 2000, with all foods coming out of the production center being chilled, conventional cooking is blast-chilled while other products are tumble-chilled. Fish, steak and sauteed items continue to be prepared on-site in traditional fashion. Now the center also ships cook-tank/tumble-chilled product once a week to one of the Philadelphia locations.

Culinary talent: More than six years prior to the implementation of cook-chill at Masonic Village, Gulick hired a culinary-trained executive chef to improve the quality of fare for healthcare residents of the nursing home as well as for those in residential living. There was already a chef on board handling operations that at the time included a cafe and one retirement-living dining room (there are now two) that serve the needs of independent residents.

Today, there are eight culinary-trained chefs on staff. One of them, a Johnson and Wales University graduate, spent about a year-and-a-half perfecting the facility's popular macaroni-and-cheese recipe.

Taking aim: In 2002, Masonic hired an independent firm to conduct resident satisfaction surveys and benchmark them with similar groups. Aiming to improve scores, Gulick and her team recently increased the number of five-week menu cycles from two to three. "We also made a 100% commitment to respond to our retirement-living residents," she reports.

"In the nursing home we are in indirect contact since nursing delivers the trays. We're partnering with our nursing department to increase communication with them."

"And, in other areas, we're very aggressively soliciting comments. We have a tremendous partnership with our residents: there's a food advisory council in retirement living, a food committee for residential, and a resident council in the nursing home and assisted-living. We also have three registered dietitians and two diet techs on the floor in the nursing home."

Gulick also implemented some new special-diet menus (gluten-free, no MSG and vegetarian) but is ambivalent about publicizing them. "We did this about six months ago because people really need it, but we don't advertise it," she admits. "We deliver what we promise, but we don't want to make the gluten-free too extreme because gluten is in so many foods. We're not using it as a marketing tool to attract others who have the need. It's a lot of work to check all the ingredient, you have to go all the way back to the manufacturer."

Going green: Favorite foods here include shepherd's pie, stuffed cabbage, prepared in the conventional way, then blast-chilled, meatloaf served with stewed tomatoes and "the best ever" mac-and-cheese. "In addition, today's residents are looking for more green vegetables so we're continuing to update menus according to the trend," Gulick says. "We also serve about 250 employees daily, offering the same entree that's menued for residents, plus sandwiches and salads."

To round out the foodservice picture, there's also a separate cae open to the public. Prices are a bit higher there in keeping with the more upscale fare, but Gulick has no desire to make it a destination restaurant since she aims to keep her focus on her CCRC clientele, and on her staff, whose annual turnover is 22%.

"They may sparkle individually, but we shine as a whole," she notes.

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