NIAGARA FALLS – It has been the butt of jokes for years – hospital food – but at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, both the food and the dining experience have gotten a makeover.
Just don’t call the new digs a hospital cafeteria.
The new Tenth Street Café will be far from it, promises Joseph A. Ruffolo, president of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
“We wanted to move away from a typical cafeteria to make it more bistro style,” Ruffolo added.
The makeover, which began nearly nine months ago, is a partnership between the hospital and the Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. It will debut to the public Jan. 5.
Students, under the direction Scott A. Beahen, director of NU’s Food Service Operation, gave the new space a modern flair, including design touches such as a glass-screened fireplace, lounge areas with Wi-Fi and a brick oven for pizza, will be open until 7 p.m. on weekdays.
“Initially, we had three students in the layout and design course who assisted with menu development, because once you do the menu development, you can do the design of that,” Beahen said. The students worked with CannonDesign.
“We came up with the idea for international foods and scratch cooking. The vision was for eggs from free-range chickens, grain-fed beef, farm-to-table concepts when available. Then, they gave that idea to my menu productions class,” Beahen said. “What came out of that is that we found that pizza was one of the most popular items on the menu so the brick-oven pizza became the focus.”
The Rev. James J. Maher, Niagara University president, said the restaurant project gave their students a hands-on opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in class to an operating facility, while also giving Memorial an opportunity to take advantage of some of the latest research into food service.
Leading the new operation is Lamont A. Singletary, 23, who was named Tenth Street Café manager and executive chef. Singletary is a graduate of NU’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, majoring in hotel and restaurant management. He also was a supervisor at the Top of the Falls Restaurant and assistant catering manager at the Silo in Lewiston. And at NU, he was a teaching assistant and sous-chef. He said the goal was to “think outside the box” in developing the menu.
“There’s stuff like sweet potato french fries with tequila-lime honey butter. We try to play with different ingredients, something that’s fresh and something that’s new that you won’t see in other places,” Singletary said. “There are a lot of heathier foods. Even our vending machines will have healthier food options.”
Other menu items include stuffed French toast with mixed berries, fried egg croissant, yogurt parfait, sun-dried tomato penne pesto pasta and rosemary-grilled chicken on a ciabatta roll. Pizza offerings including Margherita, wild mushroom or Italian sausage with roasted fennel.
Employees have also been asked for their input to develop the changing menu.
Ruffolo said they don’t want to compete with their neighbor, Tim Hortons Café & Bake Shop, and have strived to create something different. But they will be open to the public, as well as staff and hospital visitors.
“When you look at the menu, you won’t think you are standing in a hospital bistro,” Beahen said.
Ruffolo said the timing is right for the new café.
“We’ve been expanding women’s services, our elective surgery program with all our additional surgical expertise on board (and) our Wound Care Center, so now our foot traffic in the hospital as a community center has increased exponentially,” Ruffolo said. “A lot of these people are first-time people coming here. For that first-time experience we want to create the wow factor so that when they leave they will say, ‘They didn’t have a cafeteria. They had this bistro place.’ ”
Ruffolo said employees can also grab a pizza to take home at night. As a teaching hospital, he added, there is also a lot of youthful foot traffic, with medical students and residents.
“We are putting ‘hospital’ in the word ‘hospitality,’ ” he said.
The doors will always be open at the Tenth Street Café, as a lounge and seating area with healthy vending. The café will begin offering breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the pizzeria will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. During the next two weeks, the café will open to employees with limited holiday hours – ahead of the official public debut Jan. 5.