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Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Sunrise Café signifies new beginning for hospital cafeteria

“We’ll have made-to-order offerings daily,” Executive Chef Jennifer James said.

The freshly renovated cafeteria at Marshall Medical South is a more appealing and efficient stop for diners to get a delicious and healthy meal. Along with those improvements, it also has a new name – Sunrise Café - chosen by employees in an email vote.

Sunrise Café is a perfect fit, according to its chef, symbolizing a new start for the cafeteria and blending perfectly with MMC’s logo of a sun rising over mountains.

 “I want to create continuity, consistency and value,” James said.

James and her staff are excited about the spiffed-up dining room, which will be shown off in a grand opening Oct. 19. Along with the cleaner and brighter décor, diners will enjoy an “innovation station” where they use an iPad to custom-order an omelet, quesadilla or 12-inch pizza.  Lunch and dinner will feature made-to-order paninis, Reuben sandwiches, patty melts and hamburgers, as well as the traditional steam table with home-style meats and vegetables. Not to be missed are a self-service salad bar and fresh bakery items.

The cafeteria was closed in early June for new paint, floors and furniture, among other improvements. James describes the new look as industrial and distressed with lots of stainless steel. Brushed aluminum chairs with cherry wood seats coordinate with cherry wood cabinetry beams on the ceiling. The floor is finished with an epoxy product much easier to clean, and can even be pressure washed, if needed. Walls have been freshened up in tan paint with a couple of accent walls in blue, which James calls a calming color.

Because a hospital cannot shut down its cafeteria, food service was moved into the hallway while construction crews took over the dining room. Diners were treated to grab-n-go, barbecue served straight from a smoker outside, as well as a food truck, which nearly sold out every day. Despite the challenges, it went pretty smoothly, James says.

“Every day was a new adventure,” she says.

The biggest adventure for James was grilling on a huge new smoker, similar to ones used for competition barbecue events. She was able to grill 120 pounds of ribs at once, a process which required starting at 2 am.

“By 10:30, the meat was falling off the bones,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to use a big barbecue.”

The cafeteria serves three meals plus snacks to patients every day, in addition to feeding about 125 diners at breakfast and 275 – 300 people the rest of the day. James is quick to point out patient meals and cafeteria meals are different – they have to be. Patients have dietary restrictions while diners are paying for their food. Her goal is to give diners choices to meet their needs. Patients also are given choices. They order from a Sodexo Menu titled “At Your Request”.  Each patient is given a diet prescribed by their physician; this then sets the boundaries for dietary workers.

“I want there to be a noticeable difference,” she says.

James grew up on a cattle ranch in the state of Washington. She worked for the Social Security Administration for more than a decade before embarking on a culinary career, which eventually took her to New York.

“I’ve always cooked,” she says. “I grew up standing next to my grandmother cooking.”

Friends persuaded her to come down South to go to work for Sodexo, the company that manages the kitchen at Marshall South. After she landed the job at MMC just over a year ago, James remembers driving into the area for the first time behind a trailer full of cows. It was kind of a welcome sign to the former rancher.

“This feels like home,” she says. “I’m here and I want to stay.”

The Sunrise Cafe at South is open 6:15am - 6pm Monday-Thursday and 6:15am -1:30pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The public is welcome. Enter through the main hospital lobby and follow signs to the cafeteria.