Why did you decide to become a CDM?
The CDM, CFPP embodies business management, food safety and nutrition; I wanted to be a part of what that means to give each client a great quality of life. Food is comfort, food is medicine, and food is a large part of our resident’s social life. So being a part of food allows me to showcase my talent while still learning in-depth about the nutritive aspect.
What are your main responsibilities in your current position?
I am responsible for the overall operation of the dining services department, which includes budget stewardship, staff engagement, resident engagement, catering services and food quality. We have 55 diverse team members in dining that operate as a unified team, while still showing their unique qualities. Our dining philosophy is excellent food, excellent service, excellent people, and happy residents.
How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?
I plan my days a week in advance, I utilize an agenda for meetings and all pertinent items are on my calendar. Our dining leadership team meets weekly and we review our strategic dining plan and our operations communication report. These two documents, organizes our action items and communicates the actions and goals for the dining department. This process keeps us on track and it also keeps the dining team engaged.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?
When our state was hit by COVID-19 it affected the way our residents conducted their daily lives. Our facility came up with the plan to allow residents and employees to shop for groceries without leaving the community. We created an online form, sent the electronic link out to all residents, their families and our employees, so that they could order groceries from the community. We call it the “Sharon Towers Pop up Store.” Our facility also created a specialty meal program (Allison’s To Go Meals) in order to continue serving items from our fine-dining restaurant. Our executive chef par-cooks items such as lamb chops, filet mignon, lobster tail, diver scallops. Next, our executive chef vacuum seals them and then pairs the entrées with wine. Finally, our team delivers them to our residents. Culinary also offers fresh made Sushi Rolls, Culinary crafted salads and Prime Rib as a part of our Allison’s specialty meal program. This innovation allows us to keep our residents and staff well fed while also keeping them safe while continuing to offer an upscale product.
What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
My first job in the foodservice industry was at a restaurant named “Galleys Seafood Express” located in Palatka, Florida. I trained to be a server and eventually a line cook. Galleys taught me the purpose of having a job and the responsibilities that came with being an employee, at a busy restaurant.
Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?
My biggest mentor in foodservice has been Chef Andrew Tyson, he was one of my culinary school instructors and has continued to mentor me throughout my adult education. He taught me life lessons in relation to food service. Also, the past executive director at a previous job, encouraged me to attend college, now 7 years later I hold a B.S. in business administration, a M.B.A in business administration and I am currently a doctoral candidate at the school of business at Liberty University. Attending college has changed my life and has also shaped my career path.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?
My biggest challenge is that our community is currently under construction while simultaneously enduring the pandemic, the construction was going to be challenging by itself, but adding a global pandemic to the mix has forced us to really think strategically and offer innovative ideas. We were challenged with how to continue to offer our services and keep our residents safe. Our team rose to the occasion as a unified group, to continue offering each resident a great quality of life.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I really enjoy engaging our staff and working with them on their development for the future. I also enjoy and miss the face to face interactions that we had with our residents, talking with them about their life experiences is really great and interesting. Sharon Towers embraces six unifying principles: service, excellence, reverence, stewardship, unified and beauty. These unifying principles guide us to enrich the lives of those we serve by providing a nurturing environment that fosters joy, purpose, and well-being.
How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?
I involve myself with foodservice organizations and senior living support platforms, I am currently a member of ANFP, The American Culinary Federation (ACF), Senior Dining Association (SDA) and Leading Age. The various platforms allow me to learn what others in my field are doing and also offer insight and our best practices. They also connect me with individuals from around the country with great knowledge. Networking with professionals around the country allows operators to learn and grow, and that is why I am excited that I was accepted as a fellow for the 2021 Leadership Academy program by LeadingAge. My LeadingAge leadership journey begins January 2021.
How do you envision the foodservice industry changing in the next few years?
I envision senior living foodservice programs in particular experiencing a market disruption, currently senior living communities are offering dining in various venues but sometimes utilizing the same or similar menu. The market disruption would be for senior living communities and continuing care retirement communities (CCRC’s) to offer unique standalone restaurants (i.e. N.Y. Style Deli, Brick House Pizzeria by day and Upscale Italian Restaurant by night, Asian Fusion style restaurant w/ Susi Bar, upscale American Steak House, Wine and Dessert Bar w/ a sommelier and a community owned branded Food Truck that services the community and neighboring consumers). This innovation is the future of dining services in senior living communities.
What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?
Have patience with the food service career, learn as much as you can and take it all in. Enjoy the journey and strive to be the best. The key to a successful foodservice career is excellent customer service!