Pictured: Director of Dining Services, Pete Juszczyk (right), with Executive Director of Hospitality Services, Emerson Stambaugh (left), in the Deupree House lobby during the 2019 holiday season.
At Deupree House, we believe nutrition and purposeful living go hand-in-hand. That’s why we put great care into our dining services, making sure our residents have tasty and nutritious meals as well as the opportunity to celebrate food and fellowship in our beautiful dining rooms.
While COVID-19 caused us to close our dining rooms temporarily, the circumstances made residents and staff alike realize just how valuable food and fellowship are. We recently sat down with Deupree House Director of Dining Services, Pete Juszczyk, to hear his thoughts on the subject and learn about his role in our retirement community.
Q: Will you describe your current role at Deupree House?
PETE: I’m the Dining Services Director. I oversee our daily operations as well as help the team plan for the future.
Q: What was your experience before starting at Episcopal Retirement Services?
PETE: Before ERS, I was the Executive Chef of Allyn’s Cafe in Columbia Tusculum for three years. Prior to that, I was the Chef at Chateau Pomije in O'Bryonville. My formal training was at the Cincinnati branch of The Culinary Institute of America. I worked in several restaurants before realizing this is what I want to do for my profession.
Q: What first inspired you to pursue a career in elder care?
PETE: My passion for food and hospitality combined eventually, which drew me to explore my career options in settings other than restaurants.
I am a people person. Traditional chefs don’t “go on stage,” but their performance is behind the curtains. At my prior restaurants, I would touch every table each night at some point to greet, share, and listen about their dining experience.
What’s more important to you, great food or great service? For me, it’s both! This is how you win your customer over and over. You have to have both, and once you do, it is addicting. My goal and passion are to serve both of those key elements in our dining venues every day.
As much as I love to cook, I love to entertain and talk to people. I think my passion for serving truly changed my culinary path into what would become the best years of my professional life. I am very blessed to have been put on this path.
Walking into work every day knowing you can make a difference for one or 100 people — whether it be residents, staff, or families — warms my heart. And walking out each night knowing you get to do it all again tomorrow is an honor and a privilege.
Q: We spoke back in December 2019 about what the holidays at Deupree House look like. I’m sure 2020 seemed pretty different. How did the Deupree House dining staff manage to make the 2020 holiday season memorable for residents?
PETE: I sat down with my management team and said we need to make this the best Christmas possible for the residents. Executive Chef Sam Gillivan created a masterful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu. Mike Dettmer also created a Christmas-wrapped gift box for each resident to have to open on Christmas morning.
We went full throttle to execute the Spirit of Christmas through food and hospitality. Our entire department pitched in to help fill Deupree House with unlimited joy! I believe the Holy Spirit guided us and brought us as a department even closer (while still six feet apart). Staff shared how much they enjoyed being a part of all of the spirited things we did for the residents.
Q: Tell me about the dining experience at Deupree House before COVID-19. How would you describe the atmosphere in the dining room?
PETE: I have shared with others that Deupree House is the “cruise ship that never leaves port.”
The daily atmosphere at lunch and dinner in both dining venues is priceless. It reminds me of what dinner clubs used to be like.
Residents enjoy dressing up, hosting happy hours/cocktail parties with different people prior to coming to the dining room. You can feel the excitement each night in the dining venues. The energy is flowing, smiles and laughter are heard throughout the evening. I look forward to our re-opening of the dining rooms. We miss the atmosphere that the residents and staff create. But I know every day we are a day closer to getting back to our norm.
Q: How has the dining experience changed during the pandemic?
PETE: It took a lot of planning and daily adjustments to implement a successful daily production system that would work best to produce and provide lunch and dinner every day for the residents via room service. From going to table-side service to only room service, it was a challenge.
When your goal is to present eye-catching and great-tasting foods in a “to-go box,” you have to think outside the “box.” Maintaining quality, keeping food as hot as possible, and timing deliveries were always a focal point for dining services each day. Weekly menus were distributed to every apartment and then collected later in the week to account for every meal for the week for each resident.
After collecting the menus, we used a spreadsheet and counted up every menu item to get an accurate count for the cook’s for daily production. Staff from the culinary team to the service team had to adjust, adapt, and even improvise at times to what is best for the residents. I am beyond proud and appreciative of the team's daily efforts to go above and beyond to care for those who have been affected the most by this pandemic.
Q: Grille 39 has been very popular during the pandemic — and you helped develop the concept for it. Can you share a little bit about what Grille 39 is and why residents like it?
PETE: Grille 39 is an open kitchen, cook-to-order concept. When you first walk into Grille 39, you see the cooks cooking behind the quartz countertop and copper awning. Your sense of smell becomes mesmerized by so many different aromas filling the Grille arena. Your taste buds begin to water, knowing you're an order away from tasting a culinary creation.
The atmosphere is casual, relaxing, and very welcoming. With this concept, we wanted residents to have a lot of options to create their entree. We created “build your own” fresh pasta, homemade pizzas, stir fry, and gourmet salads. Along with building your own concept, Chef Sam included eight seasonal signature entrees. The Grille offers weekly specials and specialty items you could only get in Grille 39.
Feedback from the residents was positive, and they appreciated this new concept for everyone to enjoy. The Grille is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Brunch is served on Sundays.
Q: How do you and your team go about developing a weekly menu?
PETE: Chef Sam has a revolving “blueprint” menu. Each week, Sam will create the menu based on the season, availability, feedback, and new concepts. The menu changes every week, making it more appealing and gives the ability to be as creative and try recent trends or classical, traditional dishes.
Q: Do you have any words of encouragement for those who are used to cooking for themselves who may be wary about dining services at a retirement community like Deupree House? Are there any benefits to dining services over making your own food at home?
PETE: You don’t have to:
- Plan a weekly menu
- Go grocery shopping
- Labor in your own kitchen
- Do the dishes/clean up
We offer all the above — all you have to do is call for room service or come down to either of the two dining venues we offer. We take care of the rest. We give you more time to enjoy what you want to be doing versus taking the time to do everything that goes with cooking every meal in your apartment.
Q: What role do you think nutrition plays in the quality of life for seniors?
PETE: Food is life. Nutrition is one of the focal points of the Deupree House retirement community. Residents enjoy eating fresh-harvested, healthy foods that provide nutrients and help them feel good and healthy.
Dining Services puts a lot of pride and effort into creating & serving fresh vegetables, fruits, and proteins that help benefit a balanced healthy lifestyle with food. We created a “superfood” icon that we use on our weekly menus to highlight the healthier food selections for those who prefer this style.
The Deupree House community is also very active and offers swimming classes, a fitness center, wellness classes, and daily walks inside and outside. I have a saying: if you “Eat Right, Think Right, and Move Right,” you have the recipe for a healthy, happy, and rewarding lifestyle.
Q: What do you like most about your role at Deupree House?
PETE: As I look back to my 20 years of service for this amazing organization, this is what stands out the most: The neverending relationships with residents, staff, family members, board members.
I have met so many wonderful, humble, caring, mentoring, faith-driven, unselfish, supportive, and motivated individuals who share their wisdom, stories, and experiences. This has made my role beyond priceless. Being a part of so many people’s daily lives is what makes my heart beat with joy — and my soul tells me I found my calling in life 20 years ago.
I was placed with ERS 20 years ago by my faith in God and my passion for serving others. It has been the most rewarding 20 years of my profession. I am blessed and extremely grateful for those who believe in me and have given me the support and leadership to provide excellent hospitality and dining experiences.
Dining and nutrition are key to the purposeful living philosophy. Do you have more questions about dining services at Deupree House or just want to learn more about our premier retirement community? Fill out a request for information form here.