Forming partnerships with local food and beverage brands — be it a coffee shop, restaurant group or a farm — can bring immediate credibility to a senior living dining program, generate excitement among prospective residents and their families, and be an effective tool for sales and marketing teams.
Moreover, providers are betting that these partnerships will provide competitive advantages over other operators, attract people from outside a community’s walls, and help establish communities as vital parts of a larger neighborhood.
And providers that are entering these ventures believe this will drive the future of dining in senior living in a post-coronavirus landscape.
These were some of the takeaways from a panel Tuesday during Senior Housing News’ DISHED conference, which was held virtually. The panelists, Kendal Corporation Vice President of Culinary Services Operations and Procurement Ben Butler and Mary’s Woods President and CEO Diane Hood, shared their experiences partnering with local food and beverage brands.
Butler believes there will be ample opportunities to strike unique partnerships with local partners in a post-pandemic environment, and both staff and residents will encourage their pursuit.
“We know from talking to residents and staff across the country that, [post-pandemic], they expect the food system to produce what we need now, but also into the future for generations to come,” he said. “We have this obligation to be closer to that production in the future, and working with these farms makes us feel that we’re part of that conversation.”
Kendal is developing Enso Village, a $300 million continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Healdsburg, California, in conjunction with Greenbrier Development and the San Francisco Zen Center. One of the linchpins of the development is a partnership with Greens, a landmark vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco’s Fort Mason district.
Kendal discovered multiple benefits from the relationship, Butler said. The most notable benefit is having access to recipes that Greens has developed and honed over the past 40 years. But it extends to shared values in honoring food as a source of nourishment and fostering camaraderie, dining room design and layout, and especially how to forge relationships with local farms the restaurant has cultivated to anticipate future needs.
Greens works with a network of local farms within a few hundred mile radius of San Francisco. This network will play a huge factor in providing the produce for the restaurant being built at Enso Village. One of those farms, Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, initiated dialogue with the Enso Village team on menu programming, shared details of its own growing ability, and introduced the team to other farms that could be good fits for the restaurant.
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Mary’s Woods, a CCRC in Lake Oswego, Oregon, partnered with a local coffeehouse, Ovation Coffee & Tea, to open a location on its campus in late January, weeks before the first wave of Covid-19 spread across the country. Ovation is a family-owned business that specializes in serving Moroccan-style coffee and teas, espresso drinks, breakfast, lunch and pastries. The business is one of several new tenants on campus, occupying space created during Mary’s Woods recently completed, $216 million expansion.
Partnering with Ovation hearkens back to Mary’s Woods’ original mission to create a village for its residents, Hood said. Having Ovation as a partner also serves to attract people from the surrounding area to the campus, and adds variety to the culinary program that the nonprofit operator would be hard-pressed to create on its own.
Ovation uses Mary’s Woods’ point of sale (POS) system in its cafe. This allows residents to charge their purchases directly to their monthly resident bill, and for Mary’s Woods employees to deduct purchases directly from their paychecks. This stemmed from conversations between the two companies about how to blend their platforms together to present a dining alternative that Mary’s Woods would not have pursued if it had to fund the project itself.
Hood considered the possibility that Ovation would compete with Mary’s Woods own dining venues for customers. Instead, the cafe serves to complement what Mary’s Woods is doing with its pandemic foodservice strategy, and has given residents another option for a quick, grab-and-go breakfast or lunch. Ovation’s staff can deliver orders to the front lobby.
“That was one of the key benefits,” Hood said.
Attracting outside interest
Ovation Coffee & Tea has provided added benefits to Mary’s Woods during the pandemic.
While the CCRC’s dining venues have been closed, Ovation’s outside dining area has been open, providing an outlet for residents to meet with their loved ones in a safe and socially distant manner between waves of rising positive Covid-19 cases. People were dining outside at Ovation as recently as last week — bundled to keep warm.
Mary’s Woods envisions Ovation to be a key gathering spot connecting its residents to the greater Lake Oswego community, once Covid-19 outbreaks are contained. Ovation’s staff actually encourages guests to use the facility as a workspace, and this will prove attractive to people once indoor dining restrictions are loosened, particularly as work-from-home might remain more prevalent even as the pandemic wanes.
“When we’re able to do indoor dining again in Oregon, it will be really helpful to many people who have now moved to more of a work-from-home [setting],” Hood said.
Kendal hopes that Greens will eventually be open to the general public. Covid-19 has allowed the development team to tweak designs to accommodate that when it happens, Butler said.
Options under consideration include online ordering, room service capability, and adding more outdoor dining, which will most likely attract outside interest when the restaurant makes the move to serving people outside of Enso Village.
“Outdoor dining is here to stay,” he said.
Butler and Hood believe local partnerships are a growing future trend in senior living, but each stressed that meticulous planning and preparation will be essential in cementing them.
Other Kendal affiliates have space that can attract local interest, but lack the specific infrastructure for a restaurant tenant. The company is working with Greens to build out the proper settings for the restaurant, during Enso Village’s planning process.
Mary’s Woods built out retail space currently occupied by a fitness center, a medical center, a dentist and a nail salon. The provider built out Ovation’s space specifically for a restaurant tenant, allowing Ovation to create a kitchen in the space. And Hood observed that the fitness center storefront can be repurposed as a restaurant, in the event that the tenant decides to vacate the space.
“Putting in that infrastructure right out of the gate [was essential],” she said. “I learned more about grease traps and proper ventilation than I ever dreamed I would know.”