New UK hospital dining hopes to compete – and beat – area restaurants

UK Hospital debuts new kitchen, dining room

Last week the University of Kentucky opened Chandler Dining, a new food-court-like dining facility and kitchen that also serves patients in the hospital.
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Last week the University of Kentucky opened Chandler Dining, a new food-court-like dining facility and kitchen that also serves patients in the hospital.

Everybody knows the old stereotype about hospital food: that if you weren’t sick before you eat it, you will be once you eat it.

But the new Chandler Dining center at the University of Kentucky Hospital could go a long way to change that perception.

The $18 million renovation includes the 8,700-square-foot kitchen and a similar-sized dining and “cafeteria” space just off the main hospital atrium on the third floor, the same floor as the pedway across South Limestone.

The kitchen and dining operation, which officially opened last week, serves patients as well as staff, visitors and the public.

But don’t call it a cafeteria. That conjures an institutional image that UK says doesn’t fit with the new food environment.

“We’re trying to get away from ‘cafeteria’ to ‘dining’ or ‘restaurant,’ ” said Terri Schnurr, enterprise director for food and nutrition services. “We have chefs from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), from Johnson & Wales (a top school for culinary arts) ... and they are highly skilled.”

The transformation from assembly line to made-to-order will take another step later this year when the kitchen adds “room service,” on-call dining that will be available to some patients, including mothers in the labor and delivery area.

“That way they can eat on their schedule,” Schnurr said.

And don’t overlook the importance of giving hospital patients something they want to eat when they want to eat it.

Food is important, Schnurr said. For those who might be in the midst of a health crisis, “it’s one thing people have control over.”

The dining court is open almost around the clock, Schnurr said. It closes only for an hour at 5 a.m. to reset for breakfast and at 10 a.m. to reset for lunch most days.

And the food options go well beyond a choice of salads and vegetables. There are nine stations with a range of choices from fresh-carved deli sandwiches and sushi to pizza and salads made to order or pre-made in a grab-and-go chiller. Most of the food in Chandler Dining can be prepared fresh in front of the customers from healthier food options, including some locally sourced produce, she said.

“It’s not the way people are used to thinking of food service in the hospital,” Schnurr said. “We’re a health-care facility. We should be the leaders in nutrition and wellness. And we’re a business, competing with all the other restaurants out there. The market demands it. We want to do what’s current.”

The new kitchen replaced the hospital’s original kitchen that dated to the 1960s, said J.J. Housley, enterprise director of operations.

“The existing one was very dated and we’d outgrown the space. The equipment is now more modern and efficient,” Housley said. “We’d grown our number of beds significantly without increasing our kitchen footprint. A lot of patients are moving over here as we open more floors of the new hospital tower, and we needed to be where they are.”

The kitchen, which also produces food for several satellite dining areas, serves over 500 patients a day and more than 5,000 retail customers daily, Schnurr said.

But that number is expected to grow, especially as the new Shriners Hospital for Children Medical Center opens across Limestone next April. Three floors will be out-patient care for children, while the top two floors will be leased to UK for an ophthalmology clinic.

That increase in both patient and staff population is expected to create increased demand for food, too.

“Last year, retail did about $6.7 million,” she said. In the next year, “I’m expecting about a 20 percent increase.”

Some of that will come from the growing population but some is likely to come from increased market share.

“I think the food will be better,” she said. “And it will be located in a better area.”