Cafeteria renovations, beefed-up menus provide unparalleled dining experience at UMMC
By Bruce Coleman
After the ribbon is cut and the newly renovated main hospital cafeteria is dedicated on Thursday, Sept. 6, employees, students, patients and visitors will be treated to a dining experience unlike any ever offered at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
An inviting, modern atmosphere with functional restaurant-style seating highlights nearly 7,500 square feet of redesigned cafeteria space. Fresh, made-to-order and international cuisine will be offered around the clock from any of six dining “stations.” And a revamped kitchen stocked with state-of-the-art appliances and cookware will produce the finest quality food for patients and cafeteria visitors alike.
According to Philip Grady, administrator of UHHS support services, the cafeteria renovation was necessary to meet the needs of a thriving 21st century medical community.
“We had heard concerns from our staff about the selection and variety of food, timeliness of service and working conditions in the old kitchen environment,” Grady said. “The image of the cafeteria didn’t project the image of the organization in a favorable light.
“We have beautiful, modern hospitals and facilities, but we had a cafeteria that didn’t represent us to the community well. So we were able to address that with this new renovation.”
The first phase of construction – to renovate the main kitchen – started last September. In the interim, patient food preparation was moved to the Norman C. Nelson Student Union. Phase Two of construction - to modernize the cafeteria space – began last November.
At just over $5 million, funded by operations with a $2.3 million capital commitment from Sodexo, the Medical Center’s contracted food service provider, the renovation transforms the original cafeteria and kitchen space – built in 1955 – into a more streamlined dining oasis.
“The old cafeteria wasn’t set up to take care of the number of people we have on campus during any given day,” Grady said. “When you consider our employees, the number of patients and visitors and a growing student population, we really needed a more efficient design of the cafeteria so we could get employees back to their units during their lunch break and students back to class.”
Food and nutrition employees are excited about moving into the new space, said Cathy Taylor, retail operations manager.
“They are stoked,” she said. “They’re saying the same thing everybody else is – they can’t wait. They’ve been cramped a bit at the Student Union, and now they’re actually having a little competition over who will get to work in certain stations.”
Taylor describes the high-tech cooking equipment as a “virtual smart kitchen.”
“All of the kitchen equipment is so much more efficient,” she said. “Even something like a fryer that we’ve had before cooks more evenly and recovers very quickly.
“We’ve got equipment now that would rival that in some of the biggest kitchens I’ve seen.”
As inviting as the enhancements may be for employees, students and visitors, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, associate vice chancellor for health affairs, said patient needs were foremost among renovation considerations.
“As a leader in health care for Mississippi, it is important to provide high-quality food for our patients,” Woodward said. “We are pleased to offer a greater variety of food with a focus on healthier options.”
Indeed, Scott Carlisle, district manager for Sodexo, said patients should notice a dramatic improvement in food service.
“Now we’ll be able to provide fresh food closer to the time of service,” Carlisle said. “The patients also will be offered more choices. And some of their food will even be cooked to order.”
UMMC staff who work nontraditional hours haven’t been overlooked, either. Taylor said dining stations will vary their off-hours, and although some of them may be closed some nights, eventually “night shift employees will get to experience all of the different stations, too.”
“It’s pretty exceptional what we’ll be serving,” she said. “Every day, we’ll have some vegan and vegetarian offerings available at some station. We’ll also have gluten-free menu items. These will all be identified on the menus.”
The made-over menu is part of a food services concept called “Fresh Inspirations,” which promotes healthier fare throughout the entire cafeteria rather than offering a small number of healthy options in one location. Here’s a breakdown of the renovated cafeteria’s new food stations:
Through a relationship developed from its partnership with Sodexo, the Medical Center will become a licensed franchisee of Chick-fil-A restaurants. Although the Chick-fil-A Express Station will have a limited menu – ice cream products and certain specialty salads and sandwiches won’t be available right away – the station will offer chicken sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and lemonade 24 hours a day, six days a week. Many breakfast items, such as chicken biscuits and chicken minis, also will be available every day until 10:30 a.m.
• Pizza by the slice will be offered at the new Pizza Station. Three popular pizza selections will be available every day, along with a rotating “pizza of the day” offering. Fresh toppings will be applied to the pies on order throughout the day.
• Traditional Southern menu items, as well as selected entrees never before offered at the Medical Center, will be on tap at the Favorites Station. These will include popular comfort foods such as catfish cakes with crème sauce, chicken and dumplings, southern-style chicken and fresh soups. Steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes will be prepared right on the serving line.
An array of traditional grilled breakfast and lunch items, as well as daily specials, will be served up at the Grill Station.
Each day, fresh new items with an international flair will be available at the World Cuisine Station. Asian dishes, Mexican foods and even Indian selections may be available on any given day, many cooked to order. For example, when Italian is the option, diners may select their sauce and meat and watch their pasta get tossed right in front of them. Three core salads will be available every day, with one rotating specialty salad, such as chicken Caesar or Buffalo chicken.
Even the popular Simply To Go Station has been enhanced with new carry-away items such as sweet shots – miniature desserts for people on the run – and a wide variety of fountain beverages. The aroma of fresh-baked cookies will greet diners from a dessert section, and plans are in the works for a carving area that will offer the freshest meats sliced to order, a rotisserie section that will include a variety of roasted delicacies, and even a sushi area for fans of the Japanese cuisine.
“This (renovation) is all about our patients and our part in the process of taking care of them,” Taylor said.
“We’re also delighted to be able to provide better care to our caregivers.”
A grand opening ceremony for the renovated cafeteria is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6. All six dining stations will open for business at 11 a.m. Cash, credit or debit cards and payroll deduction with valid UMMC employee identification will be accepted. For more information, call Food and Nutrition Services at 4-2070.