Lisa Poggas, R.D.: Raising the Bar

Lisa Poggas built a foodservice program at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital modeled after top-tier hotels, with roomservice coming off the same line as restaurant meals.

At a Glance

At 141-bed Parker:

  • 150-seat Peakview Café
  • 70 FTEs (foodservice and Environmental Services)
  • $2.9 million annual  foodservice budget

At 59-bed Castle Rock:

  • 90-seat Manna restaurant
  • 24 FTEs
  • $1.9 million annual budget


  • Successfully assuming a multi-department management role at Parker Adventist Hospital
  • Building a foodservice program at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital modeled after top-tier hotel foodservice
  • Creating a destination, wait service restaurant at Castle Rock that generates as much as $100,000 a month in revenue
  • Linking room service menus and ordering at the two hospitals through a central call center

Even under the most posh conditions, being a patient in a hospital is never the same as being a guest at the Ritz Carlton. But foodservice staff at 59-bed Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, in Colorado, could be excused for thinking they work at a hotel, because that’s the model Lisa Poggas, R.D., has set up.

Like many top-tier hotels, Castle Rock—which opened in July 2013— features a destination, wait service restaurant called Manna. And, as in hotel foodservice, meals for the patient room service program are prepared off the same line as the restaurant meals. It is a model that has worked extremely well, says Castle Rock CFO Jeremy Pittman.

“We gave Lisa and her team a challenge when we opened this hospital, and they have exceeded our expectations,” Pittman says. “We couldn’t be happier with the results.”

Poggas, who is also the director of nutrition and environmental services [EVS] at nearby 141-bed Parker Adventist Hospital—both facilities are part of Centura Health—undertook the role of nutrition services director at the yet-to-be built Castle Rock facility three years ago with a simple request from Pittman: do something out-of-the-box.

“We had just completed a total gut job of our kitchen at Parker,” Poggas explains. “I realized that a cafeteria is very labor intensive and it takes a lot of chefs to put out a lot of meals. So we thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could act like a hotel, where they have room service running off the same line as the restaurant? That led to, what if we opened a restaurant?”

So Poggas presented her team’s idea to administration: a wait service restaurant that would be marketed not as a staff café but as a gathering place for the community, with a room service program to match. The result was Manna, a 90-seat restaurant with an open kitchen design that features local products and high-end entrées with price points that must be the envy of every white-tablecloth eatery in the area. The most expensive item on the current menu is Plains Indian Elk Steak with a summer bulgur salad that sells for $9. A Colorado lamb burger with spicy blueberry relish and mint lemon goat cheese goes for $7. The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and on its best days can bring in $4,000 in sales. “At $7 or $8 an entrée, that’s a lot of covers,” Poggas says.

Of course, not all of Manna’s revenue comes from table service. Because many staff don’t have time to sit down and order a meal, Poggas’ team created Manna on the Move, an online ordering system that allows staff to pick up meals and take them back to their desks or to a 48-seat outdoor patio. There is also Manna Market, a convenience store adjacent to the restaurant that opens at 6 a.m.—Manna does not serve breakfast—to offer grab-and-go breakfast items like breakfast burritos and oatmeal.

The patient room service program at Castle Rock is referred to as Bedside Manna, even though its menu is separate from the restaurant’s, because meals are prepared and plated in the same area. Castle Rock and Parker share a room service menu, which is impressive on its own: selections include create-your-own omelets, Fire Roasted Fiesta Salad, flatbread pizzas and entrées like chimichurri skirt steak, lemon garlic chicken and grilled salmon fillet. 

Change of plans

What Poggas has helped create at Castle Rock is impressive despite—or, perhaps, because of—the fact that prior to joining Parker in 2003, she had no experience with hospital foodservice. Poggas hadn’t even planned on a foodservice career while earning her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at Colorado State University. “I thought I wanted to go to medical school,” she recalls. “But then I discovered that I didn’t like blood, guts and gore all that much.”

But what she did like was food. “I have always enjoyed eating out and I love really, really great food,” she says. “I had taken a nutrition class for fun and I enjoyed it.”

So, when the new graduate had trouble finding a job, she decided to go back to Colorado State and get a masters degree in nutrition and dietetics. At the same time, she minored in business administration.

After an internship at the Tri-County Health Department in Denver, it was time to take the exam to become a registered dietitian.

“Ironically, the area [on the test] where I did really well was foodservice management,” she explains. “Even so, I didn’t aspire to do that right away. Everyone [in dietetics] wants to be a clinician.” So for five years Poggas worked at Denver General Hospital in the outpatient clinic.

“I never had any desire to work in the hospital,” she says, admitting that she never even ate in the hospital cafeteria. “I always did outpatient counseling— diabetes, cancer, AIDS—I also did WIC.”

Once Poggas decided that a career in clinical dietetics wasn’t what she truly wanted, a boss directed her toward sales. She went to work for Shamrock Foods for a time before moving into operations—not in a hospital but for Alterra, which at the time was the largest operator of assisted living facilities in the U.S. “For five years I worked as a dining services specialist,” she says. “I started with three states and ended up with eight states and 95 buildings.”

But things did not go well for the company, which went bankrupt in 2003. Fortunately for Poggas, Parker Hospital was just coming on line, and she got a job as nutrition services manager. Within 18 months she had been promoted to director.

“I benefited from the fact that the hospital was new,” she says. “We had a CEO who gave me a directive: ‘I want you to hire an executive chef and I want you to make the best food in the Denver metro area.’”

So, with no preconceptions about hospital food, Poggas hired Dan Skay as her executive chef. Skay— a Culinary Institute of America grad whose career includes two decades in restaurants and hotels—and Poggas not only met their boss’s order, they went one better. Parker became known for having the best food in the Centura system.

Poggas and Skay have worked closely ever since, even teaming up to win a culinary competition during the 2009 National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management conference.

A foodie at heart

Skay says his boss makes his job easy because she understands where he’s coming from.

“Lisa’s a foodie and that sets her apart from other R.D.s,” he explains. “She loves the creativity of the food and she has a passion for the food side. That’s part of the reason I have been able to work with her for the past 10 years.” Skay adds that Poggas “really relates well to the kitchen staff. She’s a very hands-on person who engages with her staff. Everyone knows who she is; she’s not ‘that person in the office.’”

But things have changed for Poggas, especially since taking on additional duties as environmental services director at Parker two years ago. As her role has expanded, her ability to be hands-on has diminished.

“I can’t be that person,” she says. “I have to be more strategic. But I’ve trained staff and worked with them and given them the tools to do what they need to do.”

Poggas now divides her time between Parker and Castle Rock, with 70% of it at Parker. When she’s there, she splits her time roughly in half between nutrition services and environmental services.

One thing Poggas has learned as her duties have grown has been how to delegate jobs and give subordinates more responsibility. It has made her “less of a control freak,” and others have benefited, as well—people like Andrea Cabrera, Parker’s environmental services manager.

“I hired her as a runner, which is an entry-level position,” Poggas explains. “She learned all the foodservice positions and worked her way up, to lead, to supervisor, and last December I promoted her to manager [of environmental services]. That’s what makes me happy now, seeing people grow.”

These days, Poggas has two major tasks before her. At Castle Rock, she wants to grow Manna’s business in two ways, by adding breakfast service and improving grab and go. At Parker, she wants to take the room service program to the next level.

“We are working with the team at Parker to develop a five-star room service model like they have at high-end resorts,” Poggas says. “We’ve hired a chef from the Phoenician Resort and one from Gateway Canyons to try to make that happen.”



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