Cura Innovates Dining During Pandemic

It’s a common scene during the COVID pandemic, to find empty dining rooms, cafes and gathering spaces in our continuing care retirement communities (CCRC). Rooms that were once filled with ways to keep the community entertained are now finding themselves following new empty orders to keep our seniors safe. Many have been isolated, lonely, not being able to socialize with family and friends.  Isolation is replaced with innovation that has Cura Hospitality, a senior living dining specialist and part of the Elior North America family of companies, competing for smiles!

 Cura is recognized by clients, residents, and their families for their creativity and providing food service opportunities that not only engages independent, assisted living and personal care residents “safely” during this challenging time, but nourishes and, more importantly…enhances life around great food!  According to TJ Alibrio, Managing Director of Partnership Development for Cura, “Administrators and clients express that one of their main concerns are how we are adapting food services so that isolated residents and patients are still able to enjoy a meal while safely socializing with others.”

Dining is an experience, a major part of the social scene that residents look forward to daily.   “From the beginning of the pandemic, our teams engaged and continue to think out of the box.  They use Cura’s marketing’s resources and monthly promotions.  Or, operators adapt to what we provide to them, personalizing to the culture and traditions of their community,” Alibrio says.

Back in March of 2020, messaging residents seemed like something small, but it created a huge impact.  At communities like Providence Point in Pittsburgh, General Manager Cheryl Torre Rastetter was proud of Providence Point dining team members who took it upon themselves to sketch cartoon like pictures with personal messages on take-out containers.  During the height of COVID, 299 meals were delivered daily to independent, plus 144 to healthcare and personal care. The team decided to go the extra mile and added in word searches and crossword puzzles.  “Even though it was a simple picture or message to them, it shows residents that they are loved and missed,” Ms. Torre Rastetter says.

Residents at Phoebe Berks in Wyomissing, PA, also received messages of encouragement and special deliveries!  Susanne Naylor’s on the phone when her doorbell rings on a recent afternoon. It’s Rachel Kesselring delivering dinner. “Oh, Rachel, it’s so nice to see you,” said Mrs. Naylor, 90, a retired West Lawn homemaker who lives alone and looks forward to the brief encounters with Rachel or other students who deliver meals to her apartment. Some days, they’re among the few in-person conversations she’ll have.  Rachel, who graduated from Conrad Weiser High School, is among a small team of high school students who delivered breakfast, lunch and dinner to Phoebe residents. Lifelines of a sort to elderly shut-ins, they distribute more than 900 meals a day. “They’re so courteous, I think very highly of them,” she says.

Taking advantage of the great weather, many communities took dining outside.  At Presbyterian Senior Living Westminster Woods in Huntingdon, PA, residents were entertained with several themed al fresco events.  Cura debuted “Wots” in the “Wok” where chefs prepared stir-fry meals to order and in front of residents from the fully equipped wagon that traveled throughout campus!   And, if the Wok Wagon wasn’t enough, the culinary team treated independent living residents to an “Artisan Cheese Wagon” offering five Italian inspired cheeses, including a wild mushroom cheese and bruschetta cheese from local cheese maker, “Friends Farm” in Williamsburg, PA.  Cheeses were served with grilled flat bread, fresh grapes, cannoli, and complimentary regular and non-alcoholic wine.

For those who could not dine oustide, food service was delivered door-to-door.  At the Community at Rockhill in Sellersville, PA, Cura celebrated Veterans Day with a mobile omelette station which traveled to “Veteran” resident rooms where chefs prepared omelettes to order!   Residents were also gifted a flag and certificate!

Continuing a five-year tradition, the famous farmer’s market at Sherwood Oaks in Cranberry Township, PA, a member of UPMC, provided a safe environment for residents to socialize while shopping for loaves of freshly baked breads, apple strudel, homemade pasta, chocolate bark and chili.   The market attracted approximately 60 residents, who shopped in the Sherwood Oaks lobby at assigned times. This allowed Sherwood staff to maintain pandemic precautions. Residents were screened, and were then provided with a shopping bag and permitted to tour the market.  Finding new ways to offer safe, communal dining can be tricky.

Director of Dining Services Beverly Puglia said events like the farmer’s market, which balance socialization and social distancing, help!  “We’re using this event as a guide for how we can make holidays and special occasions less lonely,” she said.

And speaking of special occasions, Cura teams didn’t let COVID disrupt cherished milestones. With a no visitation policy still in place at LutheranSenior Life at the Passavant in Zelienople, PA, the Cura team set up a special romantic table for two in the private dining room, while the family table was on the porch outside visible from a window. The family also brought in a few props and some pictures for them to enjoy! We served both the happy couple and the family their dinner and dessert so they could celebrate this joyous occasion together!  “We wanted to take a moment to thank the staff that was working the evening of the celebration.  My parent’s dinner was a total success and surprise.  Everything looked so nice and went so smoothly.  We couldn’t have asked for more under the current circumstances!” Rose Ann Milbert, Joann Streassley, Joe Gange, Mike Gange.

At Peter Becker Community in Harleysville, PA, the team recently provided another glorious and safe memory for a resident who celebrated an 80th birthday! According to Gloria Rich, who threw the birthday for her husband, Jim, “As soon as you opened up the room for residents to dine with others, I reserved the room for Jim’s birthday.  We had five couples. Since Jim cannot eat anything with dairy, I ordered his favorite lemon meringue pie for all baked fresh by Sam.  I also told Sam it was to be a surprise for Jim.  To my surprise, when we entered the room that evening, it was all decorated with balloons and party favors on the tables.  Thank you to the staff for making this dining room available to residents during this pandemic.  Now we can eat with other residents and still be safely distanced.  It is our opportunity to eat with new residents who feel very separated at this time.  It will be nice to get to know them.  Dinner was always our social hour and a time to involve new residents. Now we have a way to do that.”

Residents have also been treated to catering extravaganzas where residents have been safely distanced in the dining room.  At Providence Point, dining brings world flavors to their residents from the globe during their recent “Taste of Switzerland.”  Residents enjoyed an authentic menu with swim sulatteler, polenta with braised beef, hacktatschi, baked cod and more! We can’t forget the raspberry cream puff with Swiss chocolate!

Food service also plays a major role in supporting the fundraising efforts of CCRCs.  At Homestead Village in Lancaster, PA, the annual fund dinner offered residents options to support the event, where their upscale culinary experience was delivered to those who chose to dine in their rooms.  The menu included upscale dishes like confit spiced Snake River Farms kurobuta pork belly with vanilla-infused apple slaw and red wine reduction; pan-roasted quail with cinnamon-tawny port drunken cherries; diver scallops with celery root puree; foie gras with polenta cake and a pear-fig pavlova and a cheese course for dessert.

Keeping residents healthy during COVID has also inspired CCRCs managed by Cura to promote its BeWell program, which is designed to help our customers select the healthier choice when they dine with us. Many of Cura’s culinary teams present BeWell recipes which are convenient, attractive and normal.  For example, chefs from Phoebe Terrace in Allentown, PA, present monthly BeWell demonstrations where residents receive an education on good nutrition, while they enjoy a live cooking demo on easy to replicate recipes such as Tuscan spaghetti squash with kale and mini salmon turmeric almond cakes over blackberry spinach salad live in front of residents, socially distanced in the lobby.

BeWell is also offered to staff of CCRCs and healthcare facilities who rely on Cura to help keep them healthy!  A “Plant of Action” station at Holy Redeemer Hospital and Healthcare System at Meadowbrook, PA, features vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options such as grilled vegetable panini with yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant and red peppers with guacamole and shredded mozzarella on a gluten free flatbread for patients, nurses and doctors.  

At Pickering Manor in Newtown, PA, BeWell is used to leverage awareness for American Heart, National Nutrition or American Diabetes Months where chefs prepared heart healthy and low sodium dishes that incorporate lean proteins, vegetables and nuts.  Holy Redeemer in Philadelphia has even repurposed their salad bar from a self-service to attendant served.  A staff member will stand behind the salad bar line with silver bowls ready to mix individual salads, all of which is visible—at a distance—to the customer.  If a customer chooses a composed salad, Caesar, for example, all the components are easily tossed together in the right portions. This allows for a level of customization, and conversation, that corresponds with the comfort level of each customer.

The time is now to create a memorable, nutritious and delicious dining experiences safely for your residents, patients, staff and guests…  Enhance life around great food by partnering with Cura… the specialists in innovative dining!

Cura is a highly responsive and innovative dining services and hospitality provider dedicated to a mission of Enhancing Life Around Great Food. As part of Elior North America, the Cura team enhances peoples’ lives through culinary innovation and a commitment to providing exemplary service.