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Elevating expectations

How one retirement community is taking dining to a new level

Created date

June 8th, 2015
Seabrook dining
Seabrook dining

When Mary Beth Sheehan joined Seabr... as director of dining over a year ago, she had visions of culinary excellence. 

“We’ve made a lot of changes in the past year,” Sheehan says. From satisfying dietary restrictions to offering fresh, made-to-order dishes, “We’re moving in the right direction.”

From pan to plate

Seabrook and all Erickson Living communities are preparing now to follow an Erickson Living initiative called “Signatures” starting in 2016. It will introduce an all-new, all-cooked-to-order menu.

“It’s more about cooked-to-order fresh foods rather than batch cooking, serving off of steam tables. It will be more of an ‘a-la-minute’ style of cooking as in any restaurant you’d go out to dine in,” says Executive Chef Joe Marinelli.

Marinelli and his team have introduced a few menu items in this style of cooking to residents’ delight. “The chef special meals have been very well received,” says Don Miller, chairman of the dining committee.

Residents aren’t the only ones who like the change. “The food is coming out hotter and fresher, and the staff has really embraced it in terms of trying to show their talents in items they want to feature and prepare,” says Marinelli.

Dishes like pan-seared salmon over roasted garlic and cauliflower puree with an infused basil oil, freshly grilled corned beef Reuben sandwiches, homemade fish tacos, and an Asian-fusion beef taco have added flavor and freshness to the menus at Seabrook’s three restaurants. 

Marinelli and his chefs also have higher-end dishes like filet mignon, Chilean sea bass, and sea scallops with shrimp. “We have been changing it up and offering weekly elegant fare,” Marinelli says, adding that every Tuesday diners can find prime rib on the menu.

Aside from menu items, Marinelli and his team have been improving consistency in the kitchen. From temperature to serving size, consistency has been key to increased resident satisfaction.

Uptick in vegetarian and gluten-free

Sheehan and Marinelli have also been listening to resident feedback. They’ve added several vegetarian dishes and gluten-free options to satisfy a growing demand for those specialty items. 

“We’ve made an effort in the flexibility and choices we’re trying to offer. We have made a point to tell residents that if you don’t see something on the menu, we can make adjustments,” Sheehan says, adding that Seabrook has the most extensive vegetarian menu of any Erickson Living community.

Seabrook’s vegetarian population can now enjoy dishes like tofu and shitake mushroom stir-fry served over fried or brown rice—a dish that has been well received even by nonvegetarians. 

Those who have gluten restrictions can easily find substitutes like gluten-free pasta, white or sweet potato, or rice. Seabrook has adjusted most soup bases to be gluten-free, and they offer a gluten-free gravy.

“I think all of the communities are seeing an uptick in gluten-free. Overall, we’re seeing more people moving in who have realized that going wheat-free has made them feel better, so we are trying to accommodate that,” Sheehan says.

Perfect partnership

Both Marinelli and Sheehan agree that they wouldn’t be nearly as successful in elevating their dining program without resident feedback. 

“One of the things we’ve done in the past year is partner up with the residents. That has helped us learn what they like and what they’re looking for. They’ve been great partners with us to help us elevate the dining program here,” Sheehan says.

Faith Diamond, who partners with dining services as a member of the resident dining committee, says she sees great improvement. “I think they really listen, and they bend over backward to satisfy what people want,” she says.

Faith says it’s that listening that has made a big difference. Among other improvements, she also says the food tastes better, and people really look forward to the chef special each night. “The made-to-order dishes have been very, very good, beautifully presented, and well anticipated,” she says.

As a member of the dining committee, Faith keeps her “eyes and ears open” and communicates feedback from her neighbors to the dining services team. As a 13-year resident, Faith says it’s been a successful partnership.

Sheehan agrees. “We think we’re headed into a really fabulous dining program,” she says. “We’ve done so many things this year so far with menu items, events, and our team, so we’re excited that what we’re doing now is resonating with the residents and laying a good foundation for the Signatures menu that’s coming in 2016.”