The secret is in the sauce
Highlands Ranch community receives top honors for dining experienceBy Julia Collins
It’s a Thursday, just before lunchtime, and the mouthwatering aroma of a summer barbecue fills the air. The Colorado foothills line the horizon, and puffy white clouds float through the bright blue sky. Patrons fill their plates with corn bread, North Carolina pulled pork, barbequed chicken and ribs, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, and corn on the cob.
No, we’re not at an outdoor picnic, although a red-and-white checkered tablecloth lines the buffet. We’re at the Flyin’ B, Wind Crest’s café, in Highlands Ranch, and it’s Theme Thursday.
“One of our cooks develops a different theme each week,” says Director of Dining Marcus Cordova. “It gives them the opportunity to develop skills and menus, and it gets them in front of the residents, so they know them as individuals.”
Events like this have earned Wind Crest’s dining the top rating among all Erickson Living communities, nationwide, in resident satisfaction. But the passion behind it all has earned the dining team the love and respect of everyone who lives at Wind Crest.
“What makes our dining program number one is Marcus and his team, and the passion they have,” says Jerry Nelson, who lives at Wind Crest and belongs to its Resident Advisory Council. “And it’s that Marcus gives his staff the freedom to pursue their specialties.”
Take Chef Thomas Diebel, for example, a self-proclaimed “fanatic of American cuisine,” who developed and executed the barbecue menu. “They gave me the theme of barbecue, and I just went wild,” he says.
Cordova says he puts special emphasis on the excitement and engagement of his team, which empowers them to continue creating excellent food.
Four steps to great dining
Employee engagement is just one step to Wind Crest’s dining experience. Second, Cordova strives to create a strong partnership between his staff and the people they serve every day.
“It’s not a customer service relationship,” he says. “It’s really important that we connect and partner with our residents to find a solution.”
To that effect, resident Dot Poinsett chairs the dining committee, which acts as the voice for residents to dining services. “We meet monthly with Marcus, and we encourage residents to talk to us so we can relay their comments to dining services,” Dot says. “It might be something as simple as the soup is not hot enough.”
In turn, dining services creates solutions to correct any issues. This leads into step three: communication. “I host a dining forum, a PowerPoint presentation of past, present, and future challenges, and we let residents know what we have done to correct any issues they have voiced in the past,” Cordova says.
Finally, in step four, Cordova says he sets parameters through a relationship of transparency. “We get things done, and we meet our deadlines 365 days a year,” Cordova says. Still, every kitchen has limitations. By informing his patrons of those limitations, he keeps their expectations achievable.
‘Something to look forward to’
Still, Cordova “goes out of his way,” Dot says.
“He has a personality that goes along with his talents,” Jerry adds.
One of those talents is constantly adding variety to the menu and dining experience at Wind Crest. “Ron and I have been here two years, and we haven’t ever come down [to the restaurant] and not found something on the menu we’d like to try,” Dot says.
Outside of the menu, Cordova and his team host elegant evening dinners throughout the summer, including an extravagant six- or seven-course menu with live entertainment and twinkling lights on the patio; cooking classes; and theme nights like “Roaring Twenties,” “Kentucky Derby,” and “Cowboy Night.”
“We engage the residents and make it special for them and their families,” Cordova says.