When Paul Henry, the new director of food and beverage for The Virginian, started on the job in March 2020, he hit the ground running in the midst of the pandemic and the launch of a massive renovation.
The upscale retirement community in Fairfax, Va., is home to 200 residents under four levels of care. When Henry came on board, the facility had to quickly transition to off-premise meal service. Fast-forward more than one year later, and the independent living dining room has reopened for dine-in, but the kitchen is still packaging meals to go for those who prefer to eat in their rooms.
Coming from another high-end senior living operation, The Residences at Thomas Circle in Washington, D.C., Henry adapted some of the ideas he created there to pandemic restrictions. These included wine and beer tastings delivered to residents’ rooms, afternoon teas and shrimp cocktail hours, and ice cream socials.
A few months in, he was tasked with continuing The Virginian’s inspired menus and premier service while working around a construction site.
In the memory care unit, he swapped in tableware in contrasting colors, discovering that residents with dementia respond better to colorful dishes. “Blue and red enhances the ingredients and helps increase food intake by 25% and liquid intake by 80%,” Henry says.
He says he will continue to make enhancements to the assisted living and memory care dining programs as he oversees the makeover of these facilities, along with construction of five new restaurant concepts.
“The Stonehouse Dining Room is the main dining room and will have an open kitchen with large pizza oven,” says Henry. The menu will feature farm-to-table ingredients, with the goal of purchasing from nearby farms, “but we have to be careful about safety standards.”
Latitude 77 is a casual bistro concept with a largely comfort-food menu. This eatery will also offer pastries, light snacks and food that can easily be packaged to go, says Henry.
He describes The Clubhouse as a “sports bar,” with a lineup of small plates, finger foods, craft beers and signature cocktails. Of the five restaurants, Rock Creek Grill is closest to a steakhouse, with a menu focused on steaks, seafood and American fare. “It also has an outdoor terrace where we can set up barbecue grills,” says Henry.
Last on the list is The Cellar, a private wine cellar with tasting rooms. “We’re working with a local wine rep to bring in a lot of Virginia wines,” he says.
Henry admits that as younger residents come in, they may be looking for more informal dining options, so The Virginian’s new restaurants offer a range of choices. But, he says, “while retirees may enjoy casual dining at breakfast and lunch, fine dining still wins at dinner.”