Dished: Koelsch Communities Strikes Exclusive Partnership with Princess Diana’s Personal Chef

Darren McGrady, formerly the personal chef to Princess Diana, is bringing his talents to senior living for the first time, through an exclusive partnership with Koelsch Communities.

Koelsch was founded in 1958 with a single nursing home in Kelso, the town in southwestern Washington where the business is still based. The company made a name for itself by specializing in memory care as the portfolio grew, and the new partnership with McGrady comes as Koelsch is taking a variety of steps to position itself for the future.

Courtesy The Royal Chef
Darren McGrady

Today, there are 34 communities across eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Texas and Washington—and the company is in expansion mode, with five communities slated to open in 2018. It has also recently started working with real estate investment trust (REIT) LTC Properties (NYSE: LTC). The Westlake, California-based REIT acquired two of Koelsch’s Texas memory care communities in a $25.2 million sale-leaseback transaction that was announced this week.

The relationship with McGrady is one example of why Koelsch is an attractive operating partner for LTC, according to Clint Malin, the REIT’s executive vice president and chief investment officer.

“Koelsch’s forward-thinking attitude is very much aligned with LTC’s culture of innovation,” Malin told Senior Housing News. “We are consistently seeking best-in-class regional operators, like Koelsch, whose vision allows them to partner with someone like Darren to provide an enhanced dining experience to residents.”

While it is still developing new standalone memory care properties, Koelsch is also increasingly focused on resort-style independent living and assisted living as it grows, and in burnishing its reputation as a high-end provider.

The partnership with McGrady should help Koelsch achieve all these strategic objectives, according to Joel August, the company’s dining services specialist.

“Darren’s a royal chef with an esteemed history over decades,” August told Senior Housing News. “When you think of his name, it’s synonymous with luxury and class, and that’s what the Koelsch brand is all about.”

Beyond Top Chef

Providers across the senior housing spectrum have been upgrading their dining offerings over the last several years, including through collaborations with celebrity chefs such as Jet Tila, Fabio Viviani and Brad Miller. In addition to running successful restaurants, many of these chefs have gained fame by appearing on cooking competition TV shows such as Top Chef or by hosting programs on the Food Network.

The idea is that these chefs can deliver a double benefit for senior living communities. They can help elevate menus by bringing in their culinary expertise and also create marketing buzz that can help attract new residents.

Koelsch saw the potential value in working with a celebrity chef but did not want to put too much of a premium on name recognition.

“We weren’t looking for last year’s Top Chef runner-up,” August said. “We were looking at a lot of chefs to team up with, and ultimately what it boiled down to was finding someone with substantial experience.”

McGrady’s experience traces back to his training at London’s Savoy Hotel, after which he worked in the Buckingham Palace kitchen for 11 years, cooking for Queen Elizabeth II and palace guests such as U.S. Presidents Ford, Bush, Reagan and Clinton. In 1993, he became private chef to Diana, Princess of Wales, and cooked for her and her sons William and Henry until Diana’s death in 1997.

Today, McGrady runs his business—The Royal Chef—from a home base in Dallas, Texas. He has worked with companies such as American Airlines, Disney and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, according to his website. And while he has worked with Texas-based health system Baylor, Scott & White, he had not worked in senior living prior to teaming with Koelsch.

The partnership includes a non-compete agreement, so at least for the moment, McGrady won’t be working with any other senior housing providers, either. This exclusivity connects with another of Koelsch’s goals, which is to leverage this partnership to make dining more of a differentiator for the company as it competes for increasingly sophisticated consumers in a crowded marketplace.

“There’s definitely a lot of competition out there, and we’re serious when it comes to dining and the dining experience,” August said.

Not just tea and scones

As for what McGrady will be focused on, August is quick to make one thing clear: Koelsch will not be transforming its menus to become more British.

“Darren has a vast knowledge and we want to tap into that and give options to our residents,” August said.

Specifically, McGrady will be focused on bringing fresh, healthy and regionally inspired dishes to Koelsch menus, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. The partnership is still in its early stages, but plans are for new items to be developed that will run the gamut from appetizers and salads to main courses and desserts.

McGrady’s work will start in some of the Koelsch communities currently under development, primarily in Arizona, California and Washington. These are being designed with some other dining trends in mind, such as more open kitchens that will facilitate interactive culinary experiences.

Typically, a Koelsch community such as Longview, Washington’s Canterbury Park (pictured at top) has multiple dining venues run by an executive chef. Increasingly, residents want options such as casual dining as well as a more formal restaurant, August said. This is in keeping with broader industry trends, as discussed last spring at the Senior Housing News Dished event in Chicago.

Initially, McGrady will focus on independent living and assisted living. After the initial rollout, it’s likely that new innovations and adaptations will be introduced in memory care dining as well, August said.

While it remains to be seen exactly how dining will evolve now that McGrady is on board, August believes that Koelsch has made a good choice in selecting its celebrity chef partner.

“A lot of thought went into, who do we strike a relationship with?” he said. “We’re really excited and eager.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

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