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Cedar Crest dining earns praise

Made-to-order dishes, seasonal specialties, and meet the chef events mean satisfied diners

Created date

June 8th, 2015
Cedar Crest dining
Cedar Crest dining

Edward Wang has reason to celebrate. Resident satisfaction in dining services at has gone up nearly 8% over the past year. 

When Wang joined the Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J., as director of dining over a year ago, he had visions of culinary excellence. 

“We’ve made incredible progress,” Wang says, noting that before he came on board, satisfaction survey scores had incrementally decreased over the last five years. “This was the first year we went up in every category.”

So how has he done it? The Tribune sat down with Wang over a delicious lunch of freshly grilled salmon over spring greens in the Café at Village Square, one of Cedar Crest’s four on-site restaurants, to find out the secret to his success. 

Tribune: Last time we spoke, about a year ago, you talked about meeting the changing needs of your customers—Cedar Crest residents—by introducing more flexibility, more choices, and more specialties. How have you addressed those needs at Cedar Crest in the last year? 

Wang: A big program that is coming our way from corporate Erickson Living is called the Signature Menu. But even before then, we started a three-prong approach to dining. 

First, we’ve focused on signature-status menu items that each chef can prepare to order. For example, boneless sirloin steak or filet mignon for about a $10 upcharge. Another chef is cooking fantastic seafood dishes made to order. Another is preparing specialty pasta dishes made to order. 

Residents really like these special items. In the past, we’ve been a little good at a lot of things rather than really good at a few things. We’re trying to change that. These signature dishes are a great way to do that because our chefs can truly master them.

Second, we feature “Elegant Evenings” once a month. They are dress-up casual. These events have gained a lot of popularity with residents. 

Third, we host quarterly “Grand Cuisine” events for about a $55 upcharge with wine and gourmet French or farm-to-table Italian cuisine. We’ve done four so far—fantastic menus and our chef de cuisine does a great job. They’ve gotten rave reviews from residents and sold out every time.

The survey scores definitely reflect the positive changes we’ve made. Customers are much happier with quality of food. 

Tribune:  What can diners expect with the summer season? 

Wang: A new bistro menu, which we just released. We’ve also started happy hours and a “bistro bus” that brings menu items to residents who live farther away from this venue. We are also redesigning our retail stores on campus. We’ve put in a fantastic sandwich and salad menu that’s deliverable.

Starting this month, on the last Friday of each month in the summer, we have a barbecue, al fresco dining on the patio, and a farmers’ market where we bring in local produce. 

We have another Grand Cuisine event coming up. We move them to a different on-site location quarterly and have been selling out every one. 

Tribune: What opportunities do people have to get to know their chefs, and how does that affect the dining experience? 

Wang: We have a quarterly dinner with the chef. About 15 residents sign up, and we enjoy dinner with wine in our private dining room. They get to share their feedback, and it’s a good opportunity for the chefs to get to know their customers firsthand and vice versa. 

Our chefs also have a TV spot on our in-house TV station. We’re planning on doing more Food Network-like shows similar to Iron Chef.

And, of course, chefs make their rounds doing table touches. Our residents happen to love our chefs, so it’s great for them to interact during dinner service. 

Tribune:  What special events do you have planned for summer? 

Wang: We’ll have our farmers’ market barbecues, Grand Cuisine event, and holiday-themed events. 

We are also introducing pizza days, which have been a popular demand by our residents. We bring in pizza from good local pizza parlors.

Another exciting addition to the Grand Cuisine events is that we’re taking them on the road. Residents sign up and use one of their flex meals, and we hop on one of the Cedar Crest busses and go out to a special restaurant that I choose. It’s a great partnership with the local community. 

Tribune:  Many residents grow their own vegetables in the community gardens. Do you ever use their vegetables in your cooking?

Wang: Generally no because of liability. However, we are going to start featuring residents’ recipes on the menus. And we hope to put together a cookbook of resident and chef recipes. That will be a lot of fun.