CDM, CFPP of the Month - November 2020


Name: Denise Choleva, CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Food Service Manager

Employer: Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital
Job Location: Townshend, VT
Years at Current Facility: 22 Years

CDM Since: 2004

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP?

I started my job as a dietary aide/cook back in August of 1998. The foodservice manager at that time was a CDM and after being at my position for a while he offered to have me take the CDM, CFPP course. Against my better judgement at that time, I didn’t want anything to do with managing a department especially a department of “friends” now. I accepted the offer with the stipulation that I would NEVER take his job but would love the certification and knowledge. He had gone out on disability and the CEO came to me and told me that I would be doing his job while he is away. Hesitantly I did it. One morning as we walked into work, we noticed that our managers desk was cleaned off and all of his things were gone. Oh yes, here comes a call from the CEO for me to come to his office. He at that time made me the Foodservice Manager without even asking if I wanted the position. When we went to tell my coworkers, I immediately told them that I really did not want to take this job but if I didn’t, who would they bring in. I told them: I will do it but we will do this as a team. To this day my saying is "teamwork makes the dream work."

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

My main responsibilities are everything! I am a working manager so I work side by side with my employees, I fill in when needed, I love working on the salad bar, cooking for our patients and staff, I do the ordering, I put the order away. I do dishes, I visit patients, I do my office work, payroll, dietary visits, hiring, training, billing, solving problems, communication, training, the list goes on and on but most importantly LEADING my team to make everyday successful no matter what comes our way.

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?

That’s a tricky question. Some days they all get accomplished and some days they don’t. As everyone knows in foodservice, things change by the minute or could change by the minute. With only five employees that work for me, I help them when at all possible to make there days run smoother. I would much rather help in the kitchen and get a little behind in my office work and know that my team is not stressed or overwhelmed. Some days they need me more than other days. 

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?

I have made many innovated changes in the foodservice department throughout the years that have been successful.

We are a small critical access hospital in Vermont and we have lots of local farmers in the area. I signed the Healthy Food quite a while ago and joined the Vermont Healthy Foods in Healthcare Group. I attend two meetings a year with this group and it helps to collaborate and learn from each other and get buying power for our Vermont facilities to purchase as much local and sustainable foods as possible. I am lucky in southern Vermont as we have a Food Hub called Food Connects who work with the local farmers and get items available for us to order. They pick up from the farmers and deliver to us every Wednesday. Last year, 38% of our food cost was local. We are pretty proud of the work we do for our patients and staff and we always get amazing compliments from everyone. 

Now I will talk about the recent changes we made due to COVID-19. We are a pretty unique facility and the foodservice department is a very important part of it as “Food soothes the soul”.

We had a huge salad bar with many choices to be sure there was something for everyone. We also serve 2 hot meals, a regular and a vegetarian meal, a starch, veggie, and homemade soup Monday thru Friday. Employees were able to serve themselves through the salad bar, the hot bar and soup. When Covid19 hit, I had to do some quick thinking on how we would change this so everyone is not touching all of the utensils etc. Immediately we started serving the hot food and soup to the employees, which was a quick fix and then when we could no longer be in front of them and serve them we pre-made hot meals and they did grab and go. As for the salad bar, within two days I purchased grab and go containers and we started immediately with pre-made salads etc. I take tremendous pride in our salad bar so I had to either keep it with the same set items if not more. I could not let our employees down and just give minimal choices. We went above and beyond! Yes, we do have lots more recycling and composting but when we had the salad bar where you helped yourself, at the end of lunch we had to throw all the leftover food away per CMS. I would much rather get rid of recycling and composting and not food as we use lots of local product. 

The end of July we ended up upgrading to two grab and go merchandisers for our salad bar and a new steam table with a breath guard instead of a sneeze guard so we once again can serve our employees their own choices. Everyone in the facility is overly happy with all the changes that we made and we will never go back to any self-serve items. CMS will be so happy to see the changes that we made and how much safer it is serving all grab and go items. During COVID-19 was called the COVID-19 queen as I was always two weeks ahead of changes that needed to be made and my brain was always thinking of what will happen if, my manger was very proud of our accomplishments.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

My first job was working for my grandmother when I was a child. She was a caterer in our town and we all learned our foodservice etiquettes from Gram. We catered for weddings, funerals, banquets etc. with up to 300 people at some events. My Gram was an amazing caterer and I miss her dearly. 

I attended the Franklin County Tech school for my 9-12 years of high school. I was in the Culinary Arts field and during school worked at restaurants short order cooking, waitressing and when old enough bartending. I also worked at a grocery store in the deli department slicing meat, baking donuts and making sandwiches. So, to say the least, I have worked in foodservice forever.

Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?

I really don’t have a mentor per se, but I would definitely say that ANFP has a big part of mentoring for me and helping me shape my career. Also being involved with Healthy Foods in Healthcare/Healthcare without harm has been a huge inspiration in my career. Laura Brace CDM, CFPP (VTANFP) has always been there for me when I had questions, concerns, looking for policies, menu changes etc. She is was always willing to share her successes with me and she is also a true friend. I would say that she had been a mentor to me for sure.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

My biggest challenge I face in my position is being friends with all my employees. I have five employees I work with daily and they are like family to me. Being a boss to them is hard especially when having to write them up when needed. I sometimes hate being the boss but I always call myself their leader. I like leading them and our department in the right direction but I dislike having to discipline them. I love teaching them new things as I love change. My motto is “Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork” and everyday there is proof that it is true! 


What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is making people happy with food. We take pride in everything we do in our department and everything is cooked from scratch. It’s fun to come up with new ideas for our salad bar. Especially during COVID-19, food helps everyone get through their day and comforts those in need. We definitely step up to the plate in that category. 

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

The Edge magazine, Foodservice magazines, talking to peers in the same line of work, television ads, Facebook posts and just keeping a listening ear and an open eye everywhere I go and pick up on new trends. 

How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years? 

Oh boy, this is a hard question due to COVID-19. I think that it will be more convenience/pre-made/to go foods, for instance salad bars. I myself never ate from a salad bar because of how many hands touch the serving utensils and no proper hand washing. How many times you see someone taste something at a salad bar and lick their fingers and then grab the next serving utensil. I’ve seen it too many times and it makes me sick. Here at Grace Cottage Hospital we have made a complete change to our serving set up. We will never go back to a serve yourself environment. We totally got rid of our salad bar and now have grab and go merchandisers for our salad bar needs. Everything is served to everyone now and will stay that way forever. 

Some other things I envision in the next few years is maybe limited menu options, family meal deals to go, fresh/frozen take and bake options, more online ordering and continued curbside pick up to people that don’t feel safe to sit in a restaurant, more UberEats/Door Dash contactless delivery services, less brick and mortar type restaurants, maybe smaller food hubs in rural areas like where I am as we don’t have food delivery places, taxi’s public transportation it is so hard to predict what will be in two years as we don’t even know if we will have a vaccine by then. I know that people are doing some of these things now but I really think they should continue even if they find a vaccine for COVID-19. I think this is a wake-up call that anything like this can happen at any time and I think the safer we are now from learning form COVID-1-9 the better we will in the long run. 

What is your advice to to those just getting started in the foodservice industry? 

My advice to those getting started in the foodservice industry is stay up to date with the trends and changes in food service. Get as much learning and training experience as you can. Get involved with foodservice groups so you have others to talk to about problems, concerns, new ideas, etc. Become a CDM! I have learned so much being a CDM, CFPP by meeting/making new friends from all over the US. Camaraderie is very important in the foodservice industry for sure.