Justin Johnson: "Scratch"-ing the surface

Justin Johnson has revived the foodservice department by transforming the mindset of staff from "factory mentality" to a "thoughtful relationship" with food.

At a Glance

  • 90 beds
  • 850 staff on campus and at surrounding clinics
  • Three retail outlets: Harvest Market, Harvest Café and a kiosk near the emergency room


Justin Johnson has revived the foodservice department at Watertown Regional Medical Center by:

  • Converting patient foodservice from a trayline to a room service program where all foods are made to order
  • Opening a 95-seat restaurant in the hospital lobby, which has received plaudits for food quality
  • Creating an 11,000-square-foot-garden on the hospital grounds that, during the summer, supplies 80% to 85% of the department’s produce needs
  • Transforming the mindset of staff from “factory mentality” to a “thoughtful relationship” with food

“Not a health food restaurant”

Despite the hospital’s desire to have its foodservice be seen as healthy, Johnson doesn’t go quite that far in his description.

“We don’t try to bill ourselves as a health food restaurant,” he explains. “It’s all about balance and knowing what you’re eating. What we are saying to people is, there is nothing in the food that we didn’t put there. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to mount a little butter into the mustard cream sauce. It’s going to be there, but we’re going to tell you that it’s there and we’re going to be able to tell you how much is in there and it’s going to be in balance with everything else that’s on the plate.”

Johnson bristles a bit at the suggestion that what he’s doing couldn’t be replicated at a larger hospital.

“Sure, being a small facility has its advantages,” he says. “With the size staff we have I think we could do three times the volume because the setup is so efficient and the people we have are so talented.”

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