Justin Johnson: "Scratch"-ing the surface

Justin Johnson has revived the foodservice department by transforming the mindset of staff from "factory mentality" to a "thoughtful relationship" with food.

At a Glance

  • 90 beds
  • 850 staff on campus and at surrounding clinics
  • Three retail outlets: Harvest Market, Harvest Café and a kiosk near the emergency room


Justin Johnson has revived the foodservice department at Watertown Regional Medical Center by:

  • Converting patient foodservice from a trayline to a room service program where all foods are made to order
  • Opening a 95-seat restaurant in the hospital lobby, which has received plaudits for food quality
  • Creating an 11,000-square-foot-garden on the hospital grounds that, during the summer, supplies 80% to 85% of the department’s produce needs
  • Transforming the mindset of staff from “factory mentality” to a “thoughtful relationship” with food

Patient room service is available from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and patients can order whatever they want off the menu at any time.

The Harvest Market is open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and contains four stations: Flatbreads, Sandwiches, Skillets, and Soup and Salad. Each station has a set menu, which changes seasonally twice a year. In addition, each station has one or two chef’s specials.

For breakfast, there is the Harvest Café, a kiosklike structure inside the restaurant. Open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the café offers omelets to order, baked oatmeal, a variety of fresh-made baked goods, coffee and espresso-based drinks.

What you won’t find at Harvest is soda. Only iced tea, flavored waters, coffee and bottled juices are sold in the restaurant or offered to patients. When Johnson came on board, sodas were banned as part of the hospital’s push for healthier foods. Johnson admits it was not a popular move, but hospital administrators have stuck with the decision.

Much of what is served to patients, staff and visitors, at least for part of the year, has ingredients that come from the 11,000-square-foot-garden on the hospital grounds. Johnson estimates that, given a good growing season, between 80% and 85% of the produce used in the hospital will come from the garden.

What can’t be grown at the hospital is often sourced locally. All snacks are both healthy and produced in Wisconsin. Milk, eggs, cheese, meat and bread also come from local farms or companies.

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