Rowan Regional's new cafeteria is a hit
By Katie Scarvey
SALISBURY — So would you consider adding a hospital cafeteria to your rotation of places in Salisbury that offer great food for lunch?
It sounds crazy, but you just might after you check out Rowan Regional Medical Center’s newly renovated cafeteria — Café Rowan.
A seven-week renovation has transformed what was often described as a “vintage 70s” cafeteria to an attractive state-of-the-art facility.
The remodeled cafeteria opened for business June 26, and lunch customers were impressed with the inviting layout and the consumer-friendly digital signage.
But all of that would be meaningless without tasty food.
And the food is very good, comparing quite favorably to what can be found at lunch spots around town.
Novant Health partners with Morrison Healthcare Food Services to provide food and nutrition services to Rowan Regional, as well the 12 other Novant hospitals.
The hospital’s goal is to provide nutritional, wholesome food to both patients and staff members, says Master Chef Ed Adams, system director of food and nutrition for Novant Health.
Café Rowan plans to offer healthy choices at every station, Adams said. He noted that at least 50 percent of the menu items are brand new.
“We’re trying to make this more than a hospital cafeteria,” said Adams, who predicts the food will be good enough to draw people in from the community — people who don’t necessarily have a reason to be at the hospital.
It sounds ambitious, but he says he’s seen it happen at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, which Morrison’s also serves. On Sunday, he says, when the church across the street from the hospital lets out, many people make their way to the hospital cafeteria to eat.
And why not? As they are at Café Rowan, items are prepared in house, with fresh ingredients. And if you don’t have time to wait a half hour for your food, the cafeteria is a great option.
“This is not vending machine food or frozen entrees,” Adams said, adding that food can be prepared to order at many of the cafeteria stations.
Hospital president Dari Caldwell was happy with what she observed.
“I see about 20 things I want to try,” she said. “I love it. I’m proud.
“We’re trying to have healthier options,” she added. With calorie counts of items listed on the new digital signage, those looking to lighten up their diets have a new tool at their disposal.
An expanded salad bar and items like vegetable wraps give customers access to healthful choices.
Adams pointed out grilled vegetable skewers as an option for the health-conscious. At only $1.25, a skewer provides a healthy, reasonably priced snack, Adams said.
He pointed out that the vegetables in Tuesday’s daily special, a pasta dish, were being sauteed in chicken stock and not butter or oil.
A new digital sign promoting the next day’s specials allows people to plan ahead. On Tuesday, diners learned they could look forward to Caprese salad on Wednesday.
The cafeteria’s busiest times are breakfast and lunch, Adams says. Dinner choices will be similar to those at lunch, although options won’t be as extensive, he said.
Tempting fare at the re-opening included a marinated hanger steak that was tender and flavorful and reasonably priced at only $4.29, the same price as the fresh halibut smothered in a pesto sauce.
These sorts of dishes help to change the stereotype image of hospital food, said Mike Smith, regional director of operations for Morrison’s.
Adams agreed. “It’s my job to get people to forget that it’s hospital food,” he said.
Of course there are still traditional choices: hot dogs and hamburgers and pizza. If you don’t want a high-calorie pepperoni slice, however, there’s also a flatbread pizza featuring fresh vegetables. And if a burger made with Angus beef isn’t your style, you can get a lighter one made of turkey — or a veggie burger if you want to avoid meat entirely.
Even the location of the desserts was carefully considered to minimize temptation.
“It was a conscious decision to put the sweets in a corner,” Smith explained.
If you do seek the sweets out, you’ll be tempted by beautiful cupcakes and other treats.
The cafeteria’s goal is to get as much produce locally as possible, or at least stay within a 150-mile radius. And only sustainable seafood and cage-free eggs are used, Adams says.
Since hospital staff members normally don’t have much time to eat, the space is designed so that customers can get in, make their selections and not waste precious minutes of their breaks waiting for food or standing in line. Pre-made offerings like sandwiches and fruit cups are also available for those who don’t have any time to spare.
Hospital employees were buzzing during the first hour of operation, saying things like, “I can’t believe what they did with this place.”
“It’s beautiful,” said chaplain James Cook, who said he appreciated the openness of the area, which feels less cramped than it did before.
No square footage was added, Adams noted, but the layout and design makes the space feel larger, he said.
Caldwell told Adams that she was hearing plenty of rave reviews from hospital staff.
“Even the facilities guys think it’s wonderful,” she said, “and they’re hard to impress.”
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Café Rowan hours are:
Breakfast: 6:45 – 10 a.m.
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3:30 pm
Dinner: 4:30 p.m – midnight
Café Rowan is easy to find. Go in the main entrance, across from the parking deck, and take a right.