Revamped Hospital Cafeteria, ‘Café 601,’ Puts Focus on Healthy Eating

Nov. 11, 2012
Strong Memorial's hospital cafeteria dishes up more than a million meals a year.

This week, after a multi-month, $6 million renovation, Strong Memorial Hospital proudly debuts its new cafeteria, Café 601.

Arguably the busiest eatery in Rochester, Strong’s cafeteria dishes up more than a million meals a year – that’s 65,000 pounds of lettuce, 25 tons of boneless chicken, and 64,000 slices of pizza – to patients, visiting friends and family, and its own staff.

“It’d been nearly 40 years since we’ve made any significant improvements to the facility,” said Al Caldiero, director of Food & Nutrition Services at the Strong Memorial. “But we’d long outgrown our footprint as we work briskly to serve 3,000-some meals a day. We’re thrilled to now boast a more open design, with a more intuitive flow, and several see-through prep areas that give patrons a glimpse into our culinary process.”

Staffer Keisha Jones shows off the eatery's new pizza station -- featuring a tasty, whole-grain crust developed just for URMC!

The new vibe, dreamed up by architects at SWBR Architects, epitomizes the cafeteria’s heightened commitment to healthy, restaurant-quality food, Caldiero said.

“The space definitely feels fresh, upscale, clean,” he said. “We want it to be a welcome retreat for busy staff and families seeking respite.”

Fresh finishes, open feel

Within the new serving area, you’ll see glowing spotlights, granite-like counters, cherry-toned wooden floors, designer tiled finishes, and serving islands for various food stations (one dedicated to deli offerings, another to fruits/salad fixings, another to a “creation station” showcasing international cuisine, etc.).

A palette of earthy, natural colors – celery greens, creams, browns, and squash-orange – conjures up a marketplace feel, further emphasizing the cafeteria’s commitment to serving fresher, healthier fare. The 25-foot-wide glass-paneled entrance – with can’t-miss signage viewable from the main elevator bank down the hall – dramatically improves way-finding for hungry visitors, too.

“We haven’t added any square footage,” Caldiero said. “But it feels significantly bigger, thanks to the smart layout, and removing walls down to create peer-though kitchen areas that, as a bonus, allow customers to watch their food being made right before their eyes.”

He expects the free-flow design will help patrons find selections quickly at peak hours.

Wired to promote health

The new space ushers in an exciting, overhauled menu, thanks to new recipes and techniques gleaned from pro-chefs (including one, native to Italy, who coached some of URMC’s cooks last month).

Items like lobster ravioli with blush sauce, butternut squash lasagna, or heirloom tomato pizza on a whole wheat crust are intended to appeal both to the appetite and to health sensibilities. Pricing further encourages smart choices; healthier fare, in many cases, is slightly more affordable (for instance, you can tack a side salad onto your entrée for a buck – compared to a small portion of French fries, which retails for $1.75.)

Another exciting change: Easily available nutrition facts data to inform patrons’ food choices. Two touch-screen kiosks in the dining area are wired with “Net Nutrition,” a software solution that allows patrons to build and analyze meals right down to the last calorie. Persons with food allergies and sensitivities especially will appreciate the kiosks’ abilities to scan daily menu offerings for gluten, dairy, soy, and more. Staff and visitors with smart phones soon will be able to skip over the kiosks and access the same information via UR’s Mobile App, linked here.

Further surprises await – like a warming rack of whole rotisserie chickens in five varieties, available for takeout of cold winter nights. A new staff ambassador in the dining area will circle about, checking on diners to make sure their meals suit their tastes, and helping with any guest service questions. A streamlined recycling area, upon exit, helps patrons discard plastics, papers and food-stuffs in a way that’s simple – and gentle on the planet.

“Unmistakably, the new space was designed with our customers in mind,” Caldiero said. “We really listened to our staff’s and families’ concerns. We’re really proud to welcome them into this new cafeteria.”

The name – Café 601 – pays homage to the hospitals post office address, 601 Elmwood Ave., and was submitted by URMC staffer Sarah Hammer in an all-hospital competition. More than 600 ideas were proposed. Hammer received an iPad for her creative suggestion.