Dished: A Dining Club For The Brave Of Heart—And Stomach

Today’s senior living dining experience largely revolves around high-end food options and upscale venues. At one community in Illinois, the experience also hones in on adventure.

Once a month, around two dozen residents gather in the main restaurant area at The Solana Deer Park, an Atria Senior Living Community located in Deer Park, Illinois, unsure of what type of meal to expect from the chef this time around. They’re the members of the Adventurous Eaters Club, the brave souls willing to try just about anything placed before them.

One club meeting might present residents with blowfish tails, while another might involve soft-shell crabs with a Portuguese influence. In any case, residents aren’t informed of what they’ll be eating, adding to the element of surprise.


“I’m always trying to do something better, something different,” said Castano Penn Jr., director of culinary services at The Solana Deer Park.

The community’s dining program doesn’t focus solely on unique eats and taste tests, though. However, it does continue along the vein of unique experiences.

For example, a cocktail lounge is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, with alcohol free of charge so long as residents order at least two appetizers. Within this area is a wine bar, a popcorn machine and a Bloody Mary bar with all of the fixings.


Chicago-style hot dogs are on offer daily, playing into a distinctly local feel with signature South Side and North Side areas in the dining space. These come alongside fine-fare staples like Italian beef short ribs and chicken marsala. Freshly baked bread is delivered every morning from a local bakery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Solana Deer Park officially opened in May, but Atria takes this local-oriented approach at all of its communities. In New England facilities, brown bread and beans are a staple meal, while pimiento cheese is offered regularly in the South.

There’s no front of house and back of house in terms of employees, either, Penn Jr. said. All culinary workers are involved on all fronts, which has led to noteworthy connections between staff and residents.

Recommended SHN+ Exclusives

“It’s like having 25 different grandparents,” he said.

Those relationships have prompted residents to be very candid about the food they’re served. When they request a certain type of food, they might even be given the opportunity to make it alongside The Solana Deer Park’s chefs.

“We’re never going to be as good as the cooks [living] in our buildings,” said Chad Welch, Atria’s director of culinary development.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

Companies featured in this article: