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Saying goodbye to the salad bar

By Katie Bausler

The pandemic changed everything in most workplaces, including hospitals. At Bartlett Regional Hospital, staff built virus-screening areas at the entrances, created specially ventilated rooms for COVID-19 patients and set up a field hospital.

Changes at the hospital cafeteria were no exception. A popular community lunch stop, the Bartlett Café had to close to the public. The one-time centerpiece of the cafeteria now a potential health hazard, the stalwart salad bar disappeared overnight.

A change for the better

Cafeteria Manager Felipe Ogoy issued his staff a challenge: "We have the time. Let's create something better to eat—something special." The boss was seeking something different from a vat of spaghetti sauce, ladled over mass-boiled noodles. He had something more like restaurant food in mind—appealing visually and interesting to the taste buds. It might be a little bit more work, but…

Enter: a salad revolution. It wasn't hard to get creative. Many cafeteria employees come to Bartlett from work in downtown restaurant kitchens.

"They've been around," says Felipe. "They have the experience."

I thought I was seeing things the first time I saw, handwritten on the cafeteria grill whiteboard, "Blackened Salmon Caesar Salad: Made to Order." The last time I'd had one was years ago at a local waterfront restaurant. It was my go-to order at the time.

With giddy anticipation, I placed my lunchtime order and was handed a receipt with a number on it. I joined a few fellow employees waiting amidst tables retrofitted with sneeze guards. Ten minutes later, I received a clear plastic container. Inside was a substantial filet of blackened sockeye salmon resting atop a bed of hand-tossed romaine lettuce, topped with the perfect amount of dressing and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. In the corner sat a large lemon quarter, ready for squeezing. It tasted as good as it looked—I couldn't believe it!

Taking things to another level

"I give my staff a lot of credit," says Felipe. "Our standards are high, and they are meeting us there."

As the weeks of new normal unfolded, along with steak and grilled-chicken salads were new creations in the cold to-go case: roasted vegetable salad; tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil caprese salad; and Mediterranean quinoa salad power bowls. I engaged in a concerted effort to try all of them. The roasted veggies were a little heavy on the spice for my taste, but fine for some of my colleagues. The quinoa power bowls are my favorite.

"I want to do more," says Felipe. "I just need more staff."

Like many food-service pockets of the country, including Juneau, Felipe is having a hard time keeping a full staff.

Cafeteria workers also serve dietitian-designed meals to patients. During periods of high patient numbers, it can be challenging to balance serving employees and patients.

Still, the salmon salad is a keeper. For now anyway.

"It became pretty popular to the point that we can't get out of it," says Felipe. "When we open back up to the public, we may not be able to keep up, and it might go away."

And the salad bar? It's gone for good.

Categories: Nutrition

Try one of our favorites!

If you're up for a challenge, you can make your own power bowl quinoa salad. Find the recipe at bartletthospital.org/quinoabowl.

Start cooking!