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R&IEditorial Archives2005August 15 — Business

Creating an Oasis
Hospital’s multimillion-dollar rehab creates a friendly, flexible foodservice showpiece.

A 168-foot-long skylight brightens the Oasis dining complex and its bi-level seating.

Style and versatility were goals of the renovation. Space and equipment had to be able to accommodate hospital growth.

Forbes Borthwick is happy to lead tours of his dream operation. “I waited 20 years for this,” says the director of nutrition and food services for Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) in Arlington Heights, Ill. “It was worth it.’’

What once was a surgical unit now is Oasis food court, a stylish facility that serves 1,500 retail customers and prepares an average of 900 patient meals each day. The transition cost NCH $10.5 million and took two years to complete. Opened in 2004, it nearly doubled both dining space (to 28,360 square feet) and sales (to $125,000 per month). Borthwick insists he easily could double the numbers of breakfasts, lunches and dinners his crew provides daily. Flexible design as well as additional room make such expansion possible, he says.

Out-of-Date Innovation
Before arriving at NCH 20 years ago, the Scottish-born Borthwick managed foodservice for a group of 30 hospitals in County Fife, outside Edinburgh. He now oversees 140 employees, including 84 full-time. Low turnover (average tenure is 20 years) reflects the hospital’s reputation as a good employer (Chicago magazine recently rated it one of the area’s “Top 25 Best Places to Work”).

The 45-year-old facility’s 3,731 employees distinguish themselves in cardiology, oncology, emergency medicine and children’s services. But while NCH kept up-to-date on advances in medicine, its kitchen/cafeteria operations—last updated in 1973—were in need of modernization. Much of the equipment, including ventilation hoods, was not up to code. Its single serving line and salad bar—considered innovative two decades ago—caused bottlenecks, and the dining room’s long row of 20 tables reminded Borthwick of a prison lunchroom.

    Northwest Community Healthcare; Licensed for 563 beds

    Hospital employees: 3,731

    Foodservice employees: 84 full-time, 56 part-time

    Annual foodservice budget: $4.5 million (food and labor)

    Daily Oasis customers: 1,500

    Average Oasis check: $3.20

Borthwick’s discussions with administration and architects went on for months. But when consultants forecast that a foodservice makeover could increase revenues by 50%, the green light flashed, Borthwick says.

Throughout 24 months of renovation, meal production continued, with vacant space pressed into service as temporary storerooms, offices and cafeteria.

Exceeding Expectations
Architects and designers aimed for a timeless look with maximum versatility. Space and equipment had to be capable of change and growth to meet hospital expansion. Stations had to be able to serve any daypart menu.

The completed Oasis food court is an expanse of more than 8,000 square feet of food stations, retail counters, mobile snack stands, refrigerated cases and beverage bars. Design highlights include water walls, ceiling pergolas and a main dining area flooded with light from a 168-foot-long skylight.

Double-sided cashier stands at the exit allow speedy getaways. Bi-level seating for 350 includes options for solo diners, pairs and large groups.

The deli station attracts a lunch crowd with made-to-order sandwiches and prepared salads. At 5 p.m., the kitchen crew fires up fryers, grills and steam tables. By 8 p.m., employees reconfigure and downsize Oasis with folding doors. A 24-hour operation, it is managed with an overnight staff of two.

Borthwick deploys plasma screens for information and entertainment. One displays a local newscast; another, the menu. Functional signage at food stations such as “Sauté” and “Hot Entrée” leaves little guesswork. Printed sheets with nutrition information are available at each station.

The consultants’ rosy forecast turned out to be conservative: When the renovation was complete in May 2004, customer traffic increased 50% and sales 92%.

A new point-of-sale system monitors sales, controls inventory and provides greater accuracy for foods purchased by weight, Borthwick says. The production kitchen that handles 900 patient meals on a 26-foot line also is used for catering. Current catering sales of $6,000 a month could easily be doubled, thanks to the spacious facility and storage capabilities, he adds.

Borthwick’s staff is his pride, and he credits them with allowing the renovation to go smoothly. During construction, managers held weekly updates. Small groups of four or five participated in guided tours on a frequent basis. Notices and e-mails minimized the tension that change often brings. Employees stayed informed and involved and their input on job descriptions and workstations was welcomed.

Borthwick finishes the tour in the production kitchen. Is it perfect? Two quibbles—a pair of fixed structural posts by the range and a floor that needs leveling—are easy to live with, he assures.

“When you open floors and remove walls and surgical equipment from a 30-year-old building, you uncover challenges,” he says. “Those, we met.’’

Wish List
The $10.5 million Northwest Community Hospital spent on the creation of Oasis included $1.5 million for equipment. “We priced everything just right,’’ says Forbes Borthwick, director of nutrition and food services.

    Oasis food court’s sales per month, up from $64,000 monthly foodservice revenue before the renovation.

When a designer suggested a “rapid thaw” refrigerator, Borthwick first drew a blank, then added it to his wish list. The refrigerator is programmed to thaw food at a slightly higher temperature, then return it to normal temperature.

That item and a double-deck brick pizza oven are Borthwick’s equipment favorites. The popularity of house-made pizzas (three choices daily) spurred demand for catering. Employees order whole pies for department parties or to take home. With minimal marketing Borthwick averages 10 pizza orders a day.

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