When Northwestern Healthcare, in downtown Chicago, decided to close Café 251 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital earlier this fall, it made a strategic move that not only salvaged the cafeteria’s two most popular stations but also helped draw customers to another venue on the campus.
According to hospital administrators, Café 251 was closed as part of Northwestern’s major reconfiguration of the campus. That multiphase project, now in its third year, includes the addition of several retail operations and commercial restaurants, while the cafeteria space will eventually be used for patient care.
At Northwestern’s request, foodservice partner Morrison Healthcare took Sono, a Latin concept, and Chef Jet, which features Asian cuisine, and installed them in Fresh Market, the 250-seat café at nearby Prentice Women’s Hospital. The result has been increased traffic at
Fresh Market, according to Karla Lux, regional vice president for Morrison.
“When the hospital closed the cafeteria at Northwestern, they wanted to keep these two concepts because they were the most popular over there [at Café 251],” Lux explains. “So we converted some space here [at Prentice] and the results have been very good.”
First, Morrison installed Chef Jet—a concept celebrity chef Jet Tila created for Compass Group, Morrison’s parent—in place of an underperforming station. Chef Jet offers Asian entrées and salads and also allows customers to build their own stir-fries.
Sono, which is an internal Compass brand, was placed next to an exhibition station that offers homestyle meals. Sono offers burritos, quesadillas, tacos and burrito bowls that customers can have built to their specifications by choosing a protein, toppings and sauce.
“The home-cooked items were very popular, so we just kind of squeezed that [existing] station down and added Sono next to it,” Lux says. “And the location allows us to use the brick oven we have installed there to finish off our quesadillas.”
In addition, Morrison installed a salad bar in the center of the Fresh Market servery. “We do composed salads, but customers also like to build their own salads and so we added the salad bar,” explains Larry Tansky, vice president of retail for Morrison.
Other stations at Fresh Market include a grill that Roger Cleland, nutrition services director with Morrison, says tries to mimic a steakhouse.
“We offer fresh fish, some nice steaks and some different takes on burgers,” Cleland says. “People use tickets so we can customize their orders. We also try to put a healthy twist on some items by offering grilled vegetable stackers, roasted sweet potatoes and roasted fresh vegetables.”
There also is a deli, sushi station, grab-and-go cooler and a Starbucks coffee kiosk.
“This is a 24/7 operation,” Lux explains. “That was at the request of the hospital and it definitely meets the needs of the staff working at night and definitely the medical students who are working here.”
She adds that stations open and close throughout the day, with the coffee kiosk and the grill remaining open around the clock and the grill “becoming a little more multipurpose as the day goes on,” Lux says.
One of the interesting effects of the relocation of Sono and Chef Jet has been a flip-flop in customer frequency.
“Chef Jet was the more popular concept [at Café 251], but since moving over here Sono has become the more popular option,” Lux says. “I don’t know if it’s because of the location or that people are just giving Sono a try now.”