Dining in senior living as of late has been revolutionized by celebrity chefs and $10,000 gelato machines. So when senior living providers take more of a grassroots approach to developing a dining program—from staffing to acclaimed chocolate cake recipes—and still deliver a premium experience for its residents, it becomes clear that a celebrity chef isn’t necessary to serve on-point food.
Take North Shore Place, a Senior Lifestyle Corp. assisted living community in suburban Northbrook, Illinois, the first official property in the Chicago-based owner, operator and developer’s high-end Signature Collection. The community’s dining program takes cues from Senior Lifestyle’s market-rate communities, and builds upon them to add further quality and options, along with a more upscale environment. That’s because North Shore Place attracts residents who might otherwise consider continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), where hefty buy-ins tend to be the norm.
“It’s the same clientele, but a different niche,” says Tony Aloise, Senior Lifestyle’s vice president of dining services, noting that the property type makes things tricky since Illinois requires the distribution of three meals a day in assisted living.
As such, the community attempts to adhere to residents’ desires through three distinct dining options: A Starbucks-like cafe with a point of sale system where residents can purchase a la carte items; the so-called 19 Hole Grill, which offers quicker, more casual fare; and a restaurant that embodies country club flair, complete with filet on offer daily and entrees like sea bass at a slight upcharge.
The highlight of North Shore Place’s dining program, though, is its approach to staffing, Aloise says.
“We have devoted a tremendous amount of staff toward this brand,” he says. “We’re flexible enough where if we receive a big rush in the grill, we can move people around.”
Beyond the versatility with which the staff operates, opportunity proves to be the cornerstone of North Shore Place’s dining program. Rather than seek out acclaimed all-star chefs outside the industry, for example, Senior Lifestyle generally prefers to promote from within. North Shore Place’s director of dining services, David Cyplik, started as a cook about five years ago at Senior Lifestyle’s Autumn Green at Midway Village in Chicago before he was asked to lead the program in Northbrook.
“We want to develop people and have them stay with us and grow with us, and that theme is really through and through with our dining program,” Aloise says. “On paper, [some workers] aren’t really the people who should get those jobs, but when you see the passion and commitment, we do everything we can to provide the opportunities.”
Even when it came to hiring Executive Chef Derek Oelschlager from a highly competitive pool of candidates from country clubs and downtown Chicago restaurants and hotels, Senior Lifestyle relied upon Cyplik’s recommendation, as the two had gone to culinary school together. The decision has resonated throughout the company, too, as Oelschlager’s original chocolate cake recipe won the favor of Senior Lifestyle Co-Founder and Chairman Bill Kaplan.
“When we wanted to get our executive chef, there was no doubt in my mind that we wanted to get someone that David trusted,” Aloise says. “And our signature chocolate cake recipe here is his own that he brought, and that’s incredible. [Bill Kaplan] wants these cakes delivered to him all the time now.”
So far, Senior Lifestyle’s hiring philosophy has paid off, as there has been limited turnover at North Shore Place since its opening a year and a half ago, except for people earning promotions to work at different communities within the organization. Beyond a consistent staff, North Shore Place has found success through engagement, both among its employees and with its residents.
This primarily stems from knocking down barriers between front and back of house, Aloise says. On select Sundays, chefs cook in front of residents for brunch. And in 19 Hole Grill, there’s a dedicated area for cooking demos and action stations to whip up the likes of bananas foster or chicken stir fry before a resident audience.
Engagement is also the result of Senior Lifestyle’s “Time to Shine” service manual, which acts as a best-practice guide for chefs, servers, hosts and more across the company to streamline the delivery of quality to residents.
“The more the residents know our team, the better experiences they’ll tend to have with the food,” Aloise says.
Written by Kourtney Liepelt
Stay tuned for a Q&A interview with North Shore Place Executive Chef Derek Oelschlager.