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Nourishing Care: Feeding the Community

One of the standing promises of Memorial Hospital of Converse County is to deliver Advanced Medicine. Hometown Care. And it's this very Hometown Care we focus on when we work to nourish our community in our Arbor Cafe. We sat down with a few key players to discuss the efforts of our cafe in recent years, especially how we're literally nourishing people at our tables on the weekends by building a community in our Sunday Brunch and Special Meal offerings.

How did a Sunday Brunch offering begin in a hospital in Douglas, Wyoming of all places? We asked Felicia Smith that very question. "We had a lot of customers approaching us, a lot of folks, especially close by just saying 'You know, it'd be really nice if we could come over and have some options, those kinds of things," said Smith. "And so when Jeff (Chef Jeff Reimers) was hired five years ago, that was the conversation he and Karl had. And then we played around with the idea for four years because we didn't feel we had the right staff in place, the right processes in place, to make sure that no matter what we did, it would be successful."

Like all things, the timing of such an offering is essential. The Sunday Brunch offering from MHCC while five years in the making couldn't be launched on just any weekend. "We started it just before Mother's Day last year, for a trial run. Because Mother's Day is always so huge, we wanted to make sure that we at least had some kind of a clue what we were dealing with before it hit us here because nobody had ever done one in a hospital like this before. At least here."

The hiring of Chef Jeff at MHCC created a turning point in the Cafe, but the Sunday Brunch was something the team kept as a long-term goal. "It was something that was always on the back burner for quite some time, and then we got more help, and we got busier," answered Chef Jeff Reimers, "I have a lot of experience with Sunday brunch. I've done Sunday brunch most of my life wherever I've worked, in different styles."

When all items seemed to be in place they launched their trial balloon of an offering to the public and waited to see how it was received. "We didn't know what we were getting into. We had an idea. Jeff had experience in his work areas in previous jobs, but how it would impact Douglas, we didn't know," remembered Smith.

But the town of Douglas truly embraced this new Sunday stop from the Cafe staff. They started out with about 80 in average each Sunday "…then it went down. I think it was 50 for some time, [probably] for a lot of that summer. And then, during the fall, once school started again, it started to pick up. I think we're averaging over 100." reported Chef Jeff. The Arbor Cafe has truly established a base community of customers on Sundays, and it continues to grow. Smith added with a chuckle, "You can tell when church is out and which church is out when. Because those are the people that are coming. At eleven o'clock you see all of the same people walk down here, and some of the churches, I think there's one that's out by 10:30, we have a group come in by then."

What would Brunch be without a steady stream of good food offerings? But the Arbor Cafe decidedly approaches it a bit differently from week to week. Sure you have your staples of a hearty breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy. But they also throw in a few unexpected items. "We do two entrees, usually like a beef and a pork, or a chicken or something like that. One weekend we had fried chicken, or meatloaf, comfort food seems to work best, and it's all you can eat," stated Reimers. "There's something there for everybody no matter what your likes and dislikes are." Also coming from a hospital setting nutrition has to be a factor in what is served: "It's like you would say a challenge to put stuff out there that works in a hospital setting and still works for the public also."

A kitchen doesn't just magically produce food. So the staff of the cafe also has to be in the absolute top form in order to grow in what offerings are being made available to the public. Both Smith and Reimers spoke on the difficulty in hiring and keeping the right staff in the Cafe who would become truly essential to the process. "We started hiring for the customer service skills, it used to be we looked at the skills, the technical skills," recalled Smith. "We can train anybody to cook, but is this somebody I want in front of my patients? Is this somebody I want at my cash register? And so, we still do the same interview questions but we're looking for different traits now."

Reimers also chimed in, "I have a lot of experience with Sunday brunch. I've done Sunday brunch most of my life wherever I've worked. But I've kind of gotten away from it. I've got a little bit different job description than I used to have, and so Toni does most of what is done with Sunday brunch. She really does an awful lot of it, and I do it if I'm here, but usually, I'm off doing catering."

For this effort to continue and the catering offerings as well to be able to grow, someone had to step up to fill that managerial void. Enter Toni Skaggs. Toni's office sits adjacent to the kitchen. Even in this late afternoon the kitchen is moving and working; the constant hum of ovens fans and chatter of her coworkers and staff provide a syncopated punctuating beat to the atmosphere.

"The Brunch was our baby when we started because we were both hired in the same position," Skaggs stated, referring to her mother Robin whose desk sits adjacent to hers. "I just think that you spend so much time at work, you might as well do a good job at what you're doing. If you don't love what you're doing then why are you doing it?"

Both Toni and her mother Robin work on the project but when it comes down to it Toni's hours are truly devoted to the Brunch and making sure the weekend goes off without a hitch. "I do all of the ordering for us, the guy that I order through, is a Monday through Friday job and I'm not a Monday through Friday," laughed Skaggs "I'm generally, supposed to have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off so when I go home, I'm texting him back and forth a lot about new product coming in or a product that didn't get shipped right, and stuff like that."

Memorial Hospital of Converse County is a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital, but we also serve the jail, and in the past few years have begun to feed the public more and more. This affects how we approach the public with our Cafe. "I've set up the Facebook page and I've created the menus. So, I'm working on menus at home, on my Photoshop program that is more appealing to look at, to put on the Facebook page and that kind of catch your eye a little bit more." smiled Toni. "We have, kind of, wordy menus here that really have to go over a lot of information so I've taken also lunch under me and I've written the menu. I'm the one who's written a lot of the recipes and I do the ordering and it goes home. It doesn't all get worked on here all the time."

What's next for the Sunday Brunch in the coming weeks and months? To start in the month of October the Arbor Cafe will host an Oktoberfest complete with all the favorites including beer steak, beer cheese, and Guinness cupcakes. Also on the horizon is the annual Veteran's Day Prime Rib meal and of course our Holiday meals. We invite you our community to stop in, be fed, share in what we have to offer. Let us provide that nourishment both as a healthcare provider but also as your friends and neighbors. It's what hometown care is all about.