When administrators at Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis decided to update the facility, which included sections more than a century old, Director of Food and Nutrition Services Thomas Thaman saw an opportunity to bring foodservice to the forefront, literally. Wishard Hospital’s main cafeteria wasn’t in a central location, so customers had difficulty find it. “We had great food at Wishard, but nobody knew how to get to our cafeteria,” he says. “To tell the truth, I worked there for 14 years and I still didn’t know my way around.”
At the new location, which was renamed Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital after a local benefactor, Thaman worked with designers to create a cafeteria that was easily accessible. However, the process wasn’t without challenges. Below, Thaman talks about the importance of doing your homework before breaking ground and how sometimes getting your vision across means going straight to the drawing board.
Could you tell me about the transition from Wishard Hospital to Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, which opened in December 2013?
Wishard was very old. It was finally to the point where we had to do this; we couldn’t survive without a new facility with upgraded technology, wider hallways, bigger rooms and better wireless capability.
At the very beginning of this project, [my team] wanted to correct things. We had great food at Wishard, but nobody knew how to get to our cafeteria. It was not close to a lobby, it was down the hall and then down another. One of the big things that we wanted was make sure that our foodservice area was close by the main lobby. That is exactly where it is now.
Did you see this as an opportunity to make adjustments to the foodservice program?
Absolutely. First of all, we expanded our retail area because we could; we had the space to do it. It was in a better location; we could put through more customers. We actually projected when we built it that it would get double the number of customers. That indeed has happened.
What were some of the things that you were able to do?
With the Marketplace we were able to add destination stations. We have probably 16 or 17 food wells at various stations. We also have convertibles, which means that they can be a refrigerated well or a hot well depending on how you turn the dial. I really like that and it provides us with unlimited menu flexibility.
What were some of the challenges?
The first design that the architects had we threw out because it didn’t meet our [needs]. What we wanted to do is showcase our culinary staff.
Whenever you are in a design, you have this vision. A designer and consultant, they have their vision, too, based on things that they used to do. Obviously, the consultants work for the architect and construction company, so they try to get the whole concept put together, but when they don’t see your vision it’s a problem. They say, “Here’s what we plan to do.” Well, that’s not what we want. So we draw it on a board and say, “There. That’s it.” It’s an interesting process.
Did you actually draw it?
That is exactly how we did. The senior leadership and myself, we regrouped and before we even brought these guys in, said, “Here’s what we’d like to do.” We had several meetings with these guys and we just didn’t seem to be getting the message across. Finally, we went into the boardroom, drew it out and [said], “Develop it.”
Is there anything that you might have done differently?
I wish I had gotten more space in our kitchen, and definitely more storage space. When your numbers double, then that’s when you start having a few concerns.
We are securing more storage space in other locations.
What advice would you give to other operators going through a similar experience?
We did a ton of site visits all over Indiana; we went to most of the hospitals here in Indianapolis. Really it’s just being out there and being involved and understanding the technology. You need that knowledge. If you hire a consultant, you need that knowledge to push back on a consultant and say, “I don’t like this, this isn’t how I saw this in this hospital.” It’s very important to do that. There is no class on how to go through the construction process. But the more you know, the easier it is.
What was the most rewarding aspect of developing this?
For me, it was just a career defining moment. [It’s getting] the opportunity to do something really important and that’s something that I really cherish. It’s really nice to drive into a brand new facility like this every morning and work for an organization that really supports what you do.