|From left to right: Villa Crest Administrator Sarah McEvoy, Long-Term Living Editor-in-Chief Patricia Sheehan, and Villa Crest Executive Chef Manny Perry.|
One of the best things about my job as editor of Long-Term Living is bringing attention to senior living communities that go above and beyond routine care for their residents. That’s the focus of our annual OPTIMA award, which I was due to present last Thursday to this year’s winner, Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center, Manchester, N.H. Its innovative dining program, called CHOICES, was featured in our September issue.
Well, Thursday turned out to be one of those nightmare travel days. Flying from Cleveland to Manchester with a short layover in Baltimore, I allowed plenty of time to arrive for the mid-afternoon event, which was to feature local dignitaries and media and the residents and their families. But then, sitting in the Cleveland airport boarding area at 8 a.m., three dreaded words came over the loudspeaker: “minor mechanical issue.”
I won’t bore you with the details of my journey, which could have appeared in the classic travel comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Suffice to say I didn’t make it to the award ceremony.
While I may have missed the formal presentation, what I witnessed was so much more valuable in terms of showcasing the true spirit of this person-centered community. The receptionist led me to CHOICES dining room, where Villa Crest’s administrator, Sarah McEvoy, was a flurry of activity: weaving in and out between tables, coffee pot in hand, she greeted residents and poured their drinks, smiling and serving as a genial and accommodating host. This woman had been up since dawn, directing her team and executing special activities for their big day. She gave me a quick wave and returned to her tasks at hand.
Manny Perry, Villa Crest’s foodservice supervisor and executive chef, approached me with a big smile and a bigger hug. The bear of a man with the ubiquitous chef’s toque pointed to the OPTIMA trophy on display and said of the day and the residents: “It’s their award. They feel like they live in a nice place and they’re proud of it.”
Perry then took me around the bustling room, introducing me to residents who were eager to share their positive impressions of the new dining program, which offers expanded service hours, a wide range of menu items and attentive staff trained to blend hospitality with proper serving techniques.
Perry introduced me to a couple of the young servers and kitchen crew, who he said are happy to be working in an atmosphere that encourages engagement and creativity. And they have to hustle: The new program is so popular among residents and their guests that one weekend night the 17 tables “flipped” seven times, reported Perry.
McEvoy and Perry are a great team, having worked together for years. When we finally sat down together, they bantered easily and challenged each other with new ideas to expand the CHOICES program. Now they’re talking about keeping the dining room open all day, “so folks can come in the afternoon and have a slice of pie and a cup of coffee,” said Perry. And McEvoy teased Perry about possibly opening a courtyard bistro next summer—on top of everything else he already does, which includes catering events for residents and offering “special nights,” with high-end menu offerings and formal presentation.
In fact, here’s a final anecdote that illustrates the drive and dedication of this community’s team: The recent major snowstorm that hit the northeast left Villa Crest without power for the good part of a weekend day. Perry and his staff took it all in stride. Working with limited generator power and a gas oven, they turned out a buffet that featured pork tenderloin and chicken Marsala, among other tasty dishes.