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Mike Buzalka | Dec 07, 2021
On Oct. 31, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Medicine) debuted its new Pavilion, a 17-story, 1.5 million square foot building with 504 patient rooms, 47 operating rooms and an intense focus on state-of-the art technology and the patient experience. Supporting that patient experience on the dining end, hospital ambassadors assigned to each room take personalized meal orders from menus that incorporate over two dozen nationally standardized therapeutic diets.
That patient dining service is managed by FM Top 50 contract firm AVI Foodsystems, which also manages dining at Penn Medicine’s main hospital and at the new Green Family Commons multi-station retail dining venue located on the Pavilion’s first floor.
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Besides Green Commons, the Pavilion also will host two other retail outlets scheduled to open early next year, both from noted developers. One will be a unit of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s fast casual Root & Sprig Café concept, which debuted earlier this year at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington DC. Created specifically for healthcare environments, it will serve a menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and breakfast items, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free offerings.
The other is the Bower Café from noted local concept developer Thane Wright, which will offer premium coffee drinks along with an assortment of pastries and sandwiches with a focus on natural ingredients.
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The fruit and yogurt bar in the Green Family Commons offers smoothies smoothies made with fresh fruits and, soon, wheat grass grown in the hydroponic cabinet located in the adjacent salad bar area.
Uncommonly good dining at the Commons
Meanwhile, Green Commons features a menu built off the Good Food, Healthy Hospitals Platinum Standard criteria, which means incorporating a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats and scratch-made dishes, as well as a commitment to waste reduction that currently sees some 3,500 pounds of waste a day diverted from landfills through the use of a pair of onsite biodigester units.
“Our approach is to bring fresh, healthy food to our customers, staff as well as visitors” says Anthony Avalone, resident director for AVI at Penn Medicine.
“When we think about the Good Food, Healthy Hospitals initiative, one thing we’re really proud of is that we got the Platinum Standard from day one,” adds Jeff McClure, AVI’s vice president for culinary services, noting that he understands AVI’s Pavilion operation is the first to ever achieve that certification right out of the gate.
“For example, we took an approach to reducing meat purchases and putting more emphasis on plant-based healthy items,” McClure suggests. One example of this he cites is a recently menued dish featuring roasted sweet potatoes served with arugula and other greens, cranberries and shredded apple topped with a piece of grilled chicken and a healthy dressing, “so 60-70% of the plate was plant and the rest lean protein.”
Stations at Green Commons include Americana, an AVI-developed comfort food concept emphasizing local ingredients and a healthy approach to the recipes that minimize things like fat, sugar and sodium and contain no trans fats. While the concept predates the opening of Green Commons, Americana has been customized to the Penn Medicine location with regional offerings and recipes, notes McClure. He cites a recent “Smoke and Fire” dish featuring lean smoked ribs with smokey collard greens accompanied by a fresh salad and a selection of fresh vegetables.
To produce the various kinds of dishes it menus, the Americana station incorporates a variety of production equipment such as combi and convection ovens and smoke boxes.
“The equipment was designed front-forward so we are able to cook a lot of the things right in front of the guests,” McClure adds.
High-end equipment extends to other stations such as the pizza station with its stone pizza oven turning out high-quality personal-sized pies.
There is also Fusion, a station menuing international dishes such as a recent Middle Eastern creation combining falafel and quinoa with fresh grilled pita bread, pickled vegetables, hummus and tzatziki sauce. That was followed on the station’s daily cuisine rotation schedule by an Indian combo of chicken tikka masala with basmati rice, naan bread and a chickpea and chaat salad. The Fusion station also serves breakfast featuring omelets to order, French toast, pancakes and other traditional morning fare, before resetting to a lunch menu in mid-morning.
Other outlets in Green Commons include a Dietz & Watson branded deli serving four daily specialty sandwiches that are made to order on whole grain breads, a grill, a fruit/yogurt bar offering smoothies and a salad bar offering entrée salads with a full complement of available components for creating customized combinations. Incorporated into the salad bar area are a hydroponic cabinet growing herbs to top menu items (and soon, wheat grass for use in smoothies), and a concept called Roots featuring plant-based items.
“It’s amazing how popular that is with a lot of the community,” Avalone offers. “Basically, there’s something for everyone at Green Commons that they can enjoy while also eating healthy,” he adds. “People love the grill, they love the comfort foods and they can also go down and get something at Fusion with its authentic global food, or they can go to the salad bar and really focus on plant-based items with some grilled proteins.”
Currently, the salad and yogurt bars are staff-serve due to COVID concerns, but the plan is eventually to go to some self-serve as the situation and institutional/governmental policies allow, Avalone says, noting that “we’re already starting to get approvals to open up some stations, something we’ve already started with the coffee and the soup, with the salad bar next.”
Among local vendor products offered at Green Commons are Simply Good salad jars that are grab and go salads packaged in jars, which are recyclable. Because of the hermetic seal on the jars, the salads have extended shelf life of up to 14 days, easing replenishment concerns. They are supplemented by an array of in-house-made grab and go salads, sandwiches and other dishes.
“Anytime we can incorporate local businesses that help support the community, that’s what it’s all about,” Avalone offers, adding that AVI is making special efforts to ally with women- and minority-owned businesses in the area, both as vendors and, if they are restaurants, as pop-up concepts in the cafe.
Notably, Green Commons operates nearly round the clock, from 6:30 a.m. (7 a.m. on weekends) to 3 a.m. daily, giving evening and overnight staff access to quality food and beverage options. The pizza, grill, salad bar and grab and go stations remain open, though with somewhat reduced selection.
AVI Foodsystems operates the Green Family Commons multi-station dining venue at Penn Medicine’s new Pavilion facility.
Personalized patient service
On the patient dining side, AVI offers bedside ordering through dedicated ambassadors before each meal, a service that accords with the approach taken by Penn Medicine at the Pavilion, where the patient rooms feature the latest in technological aids and services. These include IRIS smart TVs located at the foot of each bed that provide not only entertainment and allow control of lights, room temperature and privacy glass but act as digital whiteboards displaying important patient information like daily care plans and names/photos of the patient’s care team.
For the meal service, “ambassadors walk into the rooms just like a waiter or waitress would and get the orders after discussing the options based on the patient’s individual diet,” Avalone explains. The ambassadors use tablet computers to relay the orders directly to the kitchen, where orders are then prepared and assembled, then sent up to the floors, where they are served by the ambassadors, providing yet another interaction with the patients.
“It’s an exciting system because it’s a real-time ordering process and we’re physically taking it a half hour before we put that item together and sending it right up to [the patient],” Avalone notes. “Our whole guest program, our ambassador program, is all about how many times we touch that patient.”
That includes not only the thrice-daily taking and delivering of meal orders but also visits in between with carts offering coffee and snacks, “so the ambassadors are engaged with the customer as much as possible,” he adds.
The ambassadors “are really an extension of the nursing team even though they’re part of the foodservice team,” Avalone suggests. “They’ve been adopted by the floors and constantly get great feedback about their customer service and how they handle customers.”
Like the retail dining menus, the patient menus are replete with fresh, local ingredients incorporated into mostly from-scratch dishes.
“We don’t use any frozen vegetables, for example—it’s all fresh—and all the soups and stocks are made from scratch,” McClure explains. “The food is prepared as it would be in a restaurant, with everything fired to order, plated and sent right up to the patient’s room.”
Not only is it all freshly made as in a good restaurant, but the selections are also restaurant quality, McClure adds, with daily lunch and dinner specials that are seasonally changed complementing an “Always Available” menu selection of traditional favorites, which themselves undergo periodic adjustments based on popularity, ambassador feedback, etc. Salmon and chicken pot pie are particular favorites, and everything is served on china for optimum presentation.
“How many times in a hospital do you get a beautiful braised short rib on a parsnip polenta with house-made demi-glaze right over the top and seasoned with broccoli rabe, which is one of our top sellers?” McClure enthuses. “Our whole philosophy is to bring the restaurant experience and get the patient to forget about the hospital experience for a half hour and just enjoy a fabulous meal.”
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