Jason Wallin has been doing farm-to-table dining in senior living for at least 10 years, so when Salmon Health and Retirement opened its new community in Medway, Mass., in September, he was determined to take it to the next level.
As the operator’s Regional Director of Culinary in the Northeast, he was familiar with area farmers and immediately got to work.
“We take local very seriously, and I committed to buy a certain volume from Medway Community Farms if they grew it,” says Wallin. “We now get 20% to 30% of our produce from that farm, and it’s just a mile away. Flowers, too.”
But some of the ingredients that go into the chef-inspired meals are sourced even closer. Salmon at Medway installed hydroponic gardens in the building, growing an assortment of fresh herbs. Every day, the cooks clip what they need for cooking and garnishes. And the community is the only residential operation in New England with working beehives, says Wallin.
“Scientists from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] are using the hives for research, while we offer beekeeping classes and harvest the honey to use in the kitchen. Some honey goes into our desserts and some is made into simple syrup and mixed into cocktails. We also bottle the honey and put our label on it to sell in our retail store,” says Wallin. “The residents buy the jars for themselves and as gifts.”
Also available for purchase is coffee from local roaster Esselon Coffee Company of Hadley, Mass. The fair-trade, organic coffee is served in all the dining venues as well.
Flex hours, flex eating
Anytime dining is another Salmon at Medway innovation that especially appeals to the independent living residents, who can be as young as 55.
“Imagine if you have to sit in the same restaurant every day and eat at the same time,” says Wallin. “We want to give residents the kind of options they had in their former lives.”
The menu in the two dining rooms changes daily and includes two new entree choices for lunch and dinner every day, but there’s also an a la carte menu with 29 more options that change seasonally. Diners can always opt for a lighter meal of pasta or salad. Plus, they can come in at 3 p.m. for a late lunch or early dinner and order off the menu.
“A resident can have filet mignon with mashed potatoes in the late afternoon just like in real life,” says Wallin. “There’s always somebody in the kitchen.”
The facility also has a pub on the premises, serving up bar-style food such as burgers, fries and mussels paired with local beers on tap.
“We’re also one of the only senior-living communities with a full liquor license in a pub that’s open to the public,” says Wallin. “Our goal is to make it enjoyable for visiting family members to come and watch the game together with their parents and grandparents. The food and drinks are competitively priced, with meals averaging $15 and beers going for $4 to $5. We’re in the senior hospitality business, not the bar business.”
The pub even offers chicken fingers and fries for the grandkids, who can play games in the on-premise arcade when they visit.
The final dining venue is a bistro called The Local. It offers a breakfast menu, elevated grab-and-go for lunch and a smoothie bar. Wallin worked with a dietitian to develop the five smoothies—with one based on cauliflower. All are designed to promote wellness, and each type is labeled with a card that describes its ingredients and what they can do for the body.
“We also plan to serve dinner at The Local, but the labor challenge is keeping us from adding that meal part right now,” says Wallin. Everything on the bistro menu is planned around the Mediterranean diet, including a plant-forward section called Le Jardin. A popular sandwich is the BLT—beets, lettuce and tomato.
“I would like to enlist 10 to 12 residents to eat off the Mediterranean menu for a set time, then partner with the dietitian to see how it affects their blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.,” says Wallin.
He is also aiming to attract non-residents to the dining venues, as 85 detached condos are currently under construction on the grounds. “Once purchased, the owners will have to come into the lobby of the main building to get their mail every day,” says Wallin. “I hope to get them into the bistro or order meals to go from our daily menu.”
Wallin says he is using Salmon at Medway as his lab: “I’d say 90% of the concepts work and some need a little tweaking. Once they are perfected, I’ll trickle the ideas down to the other Salmon Health and Retirement communities.”