Veterans Come First
Nestled in rural White City, Ore., the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics (SORCC), run by the Veterans Health Administration (VA), was serving 600 veterans three meals a day from a cafeteria originally built in the 1930s.
The building, located near beautiful Crater Lake, initially was a World War II mess hall. Over the decades, the foodservice department cleared space and added equipment where possible to meet the center’s growing demands. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the kitchen was inefficient, the flow was disjointed and some of the equipment was more than 30 years old. It was time for a complete renovation.
Richard V. Dieli, FCSI, principal, Dieli Murawka Howe Food Service Designers, based in San Diego, signed on to lead the redesign in 2010. His top goal was to plan an efficient kitchen that helped the foodservice staff continue to volume-cook from scratch and serve residents nutritious meals daily. He also wanted to create an inviting servery.
Opened November 2013, the new, 19,000-sq.-ft. foodservice facilities include a kitchen with ample cold- and dry-storage rooms, dishwashing and pot-and-pan washing areas, food-production stations and a 300-seat servery with an action-cooking station and salad and beverage bars.
Design, Budget Challenges
Dieli encountered a few design and budget issues throughout the planning process.
“One design challenge were the walk-ins at the main storage area and how we couldn’t depress our slabs over certain spots because there was a basement below,” he says. “This pushed us into certain directions with the design, and we ended up having to relocate the walk-ins.”
Adapting to a steep budget cut by the VA was another challenge. “They had other projects to fund,” Dieli says. He stayed within the revised equipment budget of $800,000 by substantially reducing the equipment package and keeping any existing equipment that was less than 10 years old. He also encouraged the foodservice staff to rethink their approach to equipment breakdowns.
“They wanted have duplicate equipment in case anything broke down,” he says. “Part of the reason was because of how long it typically takes to get service agents out to the remote facility to work on failing equipment.”
Dieli was able to overcome the challenge by duplicating only mission-critical equipment, such as kettles and combi ovens. However, the foodservice department eliminated one of two existing Hobart flight-type warewashers because of space constraints.
Dennis Overlock, SORCC project management officer, says, “With just one dishwasher, if it breaks down, we have a service contract that provides fairly quick service.”
Kitchen staff also keeps a supply of paper serving products on hand in case of an emergency. Plus, if needed, they could use the custom three-compartment pot sink to wash dishes and wares, and they can clean trays with the Champion high-temperature pot washer.
Prior to renovations, the foodservice department’s main storage area was too small, the walk-ins leaked air, portions of the ceiling had collapsed and the compressors broke down on a regular basis. In fact, the department had to rent a freezer truck to hold product for the last few months before construction began.
Dieli responded by designing a massive, 1,625-sq.-ft. cold- and dry-storage area and adding updated equipment. He specified three ThermalRite walk-in coolers, a ThermalRite walk-in freezer and dry-food and non-dry-food storage rooms with Metro shelving.
“White City is not a huge metropolitan area like Portland or Seattle, and food-product deliveries are less frequent, so the storage space had to accommodate not three or four dollies but sometimes a 60-ft.-long truckload of commodity product for scratch cooking,” Dieli says.
He left enough refrigerated space in the cold-storage area for employees to break down deliveries instead of having them work outside on the receiving dock where product might thaw.
Dieli incorporated energy-efficient Cold- Zone rack refrigeration technology throughout the facility. With multiple cold units, he says, it made sense to rack the compressors and connect all of the refrigeration to a common condenser, helping the department save energy and lower utility costs.
In the food-production area, Dieli planned a labor-efficient layout by clustering workstations so foodservice employees could transition smoothly from one task to the next. “This staff serves 1,800 meals a day, 365 days a year; you don’t want the kitchen so spread out that it kills them on labor,” he says.
The 675-sq.-ft. food-production area consists of stations for main food prep, cooking, specialty-diet prep, vegetable prep and sack-lunch assembly.
Food flows from the main storage area to food-production stations with the help of ingredient-control personnel, Overlock says. “Ingredient-control staff prepare carts with a supply of pre-measured items needed by food-production staff for that specific day,” he says. “They also remove items from the carts that were not used that day and return them back to storage.”
In the main food-prep station, food-production staff uses 30- and 80-qt. Hobart mixers and a Piper Products food processor to prepare cakes, cookies, breads, rolls and other bakery items.
Food-production staff moves from main prep into one of three stations for specialty-diet prep, vegetable prep or sack-lunch assembly. At the specialty-diet prep station, employees assemble menu items for residents on restrictive diets. At the vegetable-prep station, staff preps all of the fresh produce for the cooks. They also prep and replenish the produce used on the salad bar in the cafeteria. At the sack-lunch station, staffers assemble and package single meals for non-ambulatory residents or for those who missed mealtime for any reason.
In the cooking area, cooks rely on three combi ovens, one from Rational and two from Alto-Shaam, for slow roasting meats, including prime rib and spare ribs, or baking fish. They use five Groen kettles (ranging in size from 12-60 gallons) to boil water and volume-cook house-made soups, stews, chili and sauces as well as a Groen 40-gallon tilt braising pan to sauté meats and vegetables for jambalaya or arroz con pollo.
Dieli specified Gaylord hoods with the company’s new energy-efficient and quiet ELX design.
Past the cooking area, cooks use a Traulsen blast chiller to meet HACCP requirements for chilling salads or leftovers used for sack lunches the next day.
Nearby, two additional ThermalRite walk-in coolers store salads and other finished food product prepared by cooks ahead of mealtime.
Along the far wall of the kitchen, staff loads pans of finished menu items into two Traulsen pass-through refrigerators and two Traulsen pass-through heated cabinets, accessible on the other side by employees on the tray-service line.
The foodservice department provides 600 veterans three meals a day by breaking each meal period into two 30-min. intervals and serving half of the residents during each time slot. Ambulatory residents pick up trays from one of four Piper Products tray dispensers and move down the serving line to the first stop, a display-cooking station.
“We added a Wolf Range griddle and charbroiler to the service line to give residents a little bit of an action station so they wouldn’t feel like they’re in a drab, institutional setting,” Dieli says. “They can come in and order a fried egg at breakfast or a hamburger at lunch, and cooks prepare it fresh to order.”
He outfitted the charbroiler with casters and quick utility disconnects so employees have the option of swapping it for a second griddle during meal periods when griddled menu items are in high demand. He designated space in the kitchen to store the off-duty unit.
Moving down the line, the hot-food station, equipped with Vollrath hot-food serving units, offers residents a soup of the day, potatoes or rice, two types of vegetables and several bread choices.
Further down the serving line at the cold-food station, residents pick up fresh fruit or dessert held in Delfield ice-cooled pans. Employees have access to a Traulsen roll-in refrigerator that carries additional cold items, including Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, and a Delfield drop-in ice-cream freezer along the back wall of the station.
Meanwhile, residents can grab coffee, cappuccino, juice or soda fountain drinks at the beverage bar or build a fresh, healthy entrée for lunch or dinner at the salad bar. “One of our goals was to make more menu items easily accessible to residents for self-service during meal service,” Overlock explains.
With trays loaded, residents choose between four-top tables or booths in a modern dining room with tall, bright windows and an earth-toned color scheme. Nature-inspired glass partitions feature a pattern of wispy tree branches.
“The dining space encourages more social interaction among residents,” Overlock says. “It has a variety of seating options and diners can choose what type best fits their individual desires.”
Even with challenges, Dieli was able to design a space- and labor-efficient kitchen and inviting servery. “We didn’t get fancy with the overall design because at this facility it’s all about throughput, getting product in and moving it out,” he says.