Lesha Colin: Community Activist

When Lesha Colin was in high school in Philadelphia, she dreamed of running a hotel, perhaps something on the order of The Sands in nearby Atlantic City, N.J. Today, as fate would have it, she brings upscale dining and a touch of show biz flair to Winchester Gardens, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Maplewood, N.J. This Sodexo Senior Services account, just about 10 miles from New York City, is home to 240 independent and 90 assisted living residents.

Shortly before she graduated from Widener University in Chester, Pa., where she earned her BS degree in hotel and restaurant management, Colin’s mother died. Being an only child and grandchild, when she graduated she took a job with Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., so she could remain close to her family. After working at Aramark for a year and a half in the B&I sector, she left to join Marriott Management Services, once again in the B&I sector. But 11 years ago, Colin got married and moved to New Jersey, which meant finding another job. Her new position, with The Wood Co., finally brought her into the realm of senior dining.

The subsequent acquisition of The Wood Co. by Sodexo in 2001 fortuitously provided a larger stage—and broader recognition—for Colin’s management skills. Pat Connolly, president of Sodexho Senior Services Division asserts: “Few employees so thoroughly embody our mission of improving the lives of residents as Lesha Colin at Winchester Gardens.”

Urgent issues: Five and a half years ago, when Colin arrived at Winchester Gardens, the list of challenges she faced was fairly extensive, she recalls. For example, production and inventory systems were not in place in the back of the house, and turnover among the wait staff and management was high. (Overall, there are about 100 foodservice staff members, including hourly employees and managers.)

“Sodexo’s Quality Management Systems [QMS] weren’t being adhered to since the company hadn’t been able to find the correct manager to turn it over and make it a successful unit,” she recalls. “At the outset, everything was urgent, but little by little, within three to six months, I started to see good changes in the dining rooms. I hired an executive chef and sous chef, implemented new production and inventory systems, and I was able to delegate responsibilities to my five-member management team: assistant director, healthcare manager, dining room manager, executive chef and a sous chef.”

Wait for the beep: In the front of the house, there were several food quality and service issues. One of them was the complaint from many residents that they often had to wait to get into the main dining room for dinner. Borrowing a restaurant solution, Colin implemented a beeper system. Since the main dining room opens at 5 p.m., with seating until 7 p.m., residents can come down any time they like, receive a beeper at the host stand, then wait in the adjoining cocktail area to be paged. As a monotony breaker, free wine, beer and snacks are provided in this space Friday evenings, with non-alcoholic beverages and snacks offered on Tuesdays. However, residents can bring their own liquor any evening, and many of them store their private stock in a cabinet provided in that area.

Since many independent living residents are out and about during the day, lunch doesn’t typically draw a crowd. “We do have the Grill Room open for lunch seven days a week from noon to 1:30 p.m. We also implemented an ‘early evening’ grill program from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. with 10 selections menued,” Colin points out. “Everything is made to order, from liver and onions to grilled fish and eggplant parmigiana. Only about 10 people come each week between 1:30 and 3:30. For lunch, we serve anywhere from 20 to 40 each day and more on the weekends, since residents [often] come with their families.”

For special occasions, residents are welcome to make reservations to dine in the more formal setting of the 35-seat Wintergarden Room, which adjoins the main dining room.

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
overtime payroll timesheet

Just eight days before Dec. 1, when operators would have to comply with the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rules, a federal judge in Texas slapped an injunction on the regulation. The move indefinitely halted the rules that would have doubled the overtime threshold to $47,476, affecting nearly 4.2 million workers, according to the DOL. For some operators, the move was too little, too late. Now, they have to answer to employees who had been briefed on promised wage increases.

Kansas Memorial Union at the University of Kansas in Lawrence made changes ahead of the deadline...

Ideas and Innovation
ucmc model

With a budget and timeline in place, and the support of the university behind them, the foodservice team at the University of Chicago Medical Center was ready to get rolling with the renovation of one of its patient services kitchens. The facility, which services the hospital’s Center for Care and Discovery and Comer Children’s Hospital, was tripling in size to serve two additional patient floors, to the tune of $9 million. But that didn’t mean immediately jumping in with steel and screws.

“First, we cut out scaled pieces of paper and moved things around,” says Elizabeth Lockwood,...

Ideas and Innovation
granola bars

Where possible, we make grab-and-go items reimbursable. For example, if we’re serving a fruit and milk smoothie, we let students take a granola bar or other grain component to make it count as a meal.

Managing Your Business
pizza toppings

When the FoodService Director editors first started tossing around the idea of an “influencers” issue, our minds immediately turned to, well, foodservice directors. After all, so much of the learning in this industry is a peer-to-peer experience, and it’s your influence that inspires the content in every single issue of this magazine.

Then we imagined the massive infighting that would occur if we tried to whittle ourselves down to a list of just 20 influential operators and thought better of it. There’s already enough arguing for us to do about which pizza toppings are best (...

FSD Resources