Over the last two years, COVID pretty much prohibited special events at Presbyterian Senior Living’s Westminster Woods community in Huntingdon, Pa.
Now, Paul Sprowls, director of dining for Cura Hospitality, the community’s foodservice provider, wants to get residents out of their villas to interact over food and drink activities.
First on the schedule was a bourbon tasting, held last month.
“Before the pandemic, I had been talking with Ron Meyers, a Cura colleague at nearby St. Andrews Village, about doing this event,” says Sprowls. “He was a sommelier in a previous life and has the expertise to lead a tasting.”
To make it happen nearly two years later, Sprowls purchased the four spirits Meyers recommended—three bourbons and a Scotch—and planned a “destination tables” pairing dinner to precede the tasting.
Residents could reserve the dinner and bourbon tasting on Westminster Woods’ new online platform, WestWoodDining.com; tickets were $40 for both.
“Our population likes to graze, so we set up seven tables, each with a different dish, and gave residents six-inch plates for the food,” says Sprowls. “Going around to the different tables encourages interaction. There’s no order to the meal and guests can even eat dessert first, if they choose to.”
The destination tables also prevent the crowding and long lines you typically get with a buffet, he adds.
The Cura team planned and prepared the pairing menu. Executive Chef Dante Tambolini and Assistant Director Robert Pennington started with a marinated grilled flatiron steak with two sauces—blueberry-bourbon and maple-peach barbecue. Table two held a citrus-pesto shrimp cocktail, while the pasta station offered up penne Alfredo with bacon-bourbon sauce. Other tables showcased sesame pork potstickers with broccoli slaw, a black bean and corn salad served on an edible spoon made of corn, a display of local and artisan cheeses curated by Pennington, and a dessert station with chocolate mousse in mini chocolate cups.
“[Meyers] requested something chocolate as a good flavor transition to the bourbon tasting,” says Sprowls.
The tasting took place in the same dining room. Residents were given a placemat with the four samples, and Meyers led participants through a guided teaching and sipping for each spirit.
“The residents who attended were very passionate and engaged,” says Sprowls. “The tasting evoked memories and several started sharing stories about their travels experiencing bourbons and other food and drinks.”
Word soon spread around Westminster Woods, and residents are getting excited about trying upcoming events, says Sprowls. This month, he’s planning a Lenten event spotlighting shrimp in six preparations.
“People can again graze around the destination tables, where everything will be shrimp-related: shrimp bisque, shrimp cocktail, shrimp and grits and shrimp Alfredo,” he says. It goes for $22.95 per person, beer and wine included.
Sprowls is enthused about using the new online platform to promote events and engage residents. Cura has always done a monthly Be Well Kitchen, where the dining team demos salads and other healthier items, but residents can now click on a class and easily make a reservation.
About 90% of Westminster Woods’ independent-living residents are successfully using the platform on their tablets and smartphones to view menus, make reservations and order food to go.
“There is also an event tab on the platform,” says Sprowls, “and I intend to keep the bucket full.”