One year of operating in our new kitchen brings smiles to our faces as well as to those of our senior meal recipients.
BUILT FOR DAYS LIKE THANKSGIVING
It’s early, but the team is ready to shine. It’s an average day and an unusual one. The new kitchen is buzzing. OK, so it’s always buzzing, but today the music is a little livelier, the joking a bit funnier, the redolence of nutmeg and cranberries are just that much more enticing.
Our first full Thanksgiving in the new kitchen is here. A year in the making and we are thrilled!
Meals on Wheels San Francisco officially open a larger, state-of-the-art industrial kitchen and food distribution center during a virtual dedication ceremony that was held on November 19, 2020. The Andy and Teri Goodman Nourishing Kitchen is already meeting the needs of the Bay Area’s growing population of food insecure and isolated older adults.
And the new kitchen is exceeding our expectations.
Located in The Sangiacomo Flynn Building in Bayview, our meal production capacity has increased to 30,000 meals daily. But—just as important—the kitchen helps us advance the quality and variety of our meals. It will also become a source for other food-based community benefit organizations for low-cost, high-quality food.
Between June 2020 to October 2021, Meals on Wheels has produced a staggering 2.8 million meals, serving more than 5,000 older adults daily.
It’s built for big days like Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving…we were ready for you!
A (REMARKABLE) DAY IN THE LIFE
There are so many brilliant features of the new kitchen, especially around the ability to serve more meals while improving the food’s quality.
It all starts with happy cooks.
“The staff feels appreciated because of the design of the building and what was included,” said Executive Chef Richard Crocker. “The lockers, bathrooms, and cafeteria are all designed with the staff in mind.”
When the staff feels appreciated and has the right tools and ingredients, the pride in their work shines through. At the daily kitchen staff meeting, the menu changes day-to-day, but the message stays the same. We are all about “food made from the heart.”
Chef Brett Niebergall agrees.
“I ask my team to put their hearts in their work,” says Chef Brett. “They love knowing they are making a difference in our community one meal at a time.”
Designed for efficiency and safety, the layout allows easy movement from storage to kitchen and back to the warehouse again…or right out the door to the clients. If a piece of equipment can be on wheels, it is! That makes for a layout that can change depending on the day’s tasks. If something breaks, parts are on hand to quickly remedy the situation.
All that equipment and staff makes for a staggeringly active work environment.
“A typical day is very noisy,” said Kitchen Director Gustavo Lopez. “The kettles are always running at full speed, cooking tons of food, lots of smiles, a lot of cooks running up and down the stairs.”
That activity is fueled by music, as Gustavo describes. “From Rap, Reggaeton, Salsa, Latin Rock, and Oldies. You walk from one end to the other listening to all these beats.” We’ll leave Gustavo’s definition of ‘oldies’ up to your imagination. This is a daily topic of debate in the kitchen. So, we’ll leave it at that.
FOOD MADE FROM THE HEART
The capabilities of the kitchen are astonishing and quality shines through. It always comes back to “food made from the heart.”
“We are far more scratch cooking than we’ve ever been before,” said David Linnell, Chief Food and Operations Officer. “We have focused on menu changes and finding products that we can make from scratch.”
It is amazing when you think about it. More meals, but better quality.
Our focus is the Continuous Quality Improvement Process, which includes taste tests. Yummy, yummy taste tests!
“We look at taste, color, texture, packaging, and the way it’s laid out inside the tray,” Linnell said. “We eat with our eyes first, we talk about all those components, and then we improve those components more than we did the last time.”
“Although we are cooking in 200-gallon kettles, we treat them as a normal size pot on the stove at home,” said Executive Chef Richard Crocker. “We build flavor by caramelizing vegetables, deglazing the pot, and maybe even reducing some wine.”
All that care. That’s what we mean by “food made from the heart.”
One of the operation’s most superb features is its location.
The Sangiacomo Flynn Building is in the heart of San Francisco’s Produce Market. The location means that relationships with produce vendors are stronger and transportation costs for many items are essentially zero.
For example, a neighbor recently had a problem. They ordered too many mangoes, 165 cases too many. They had a choice, throw them in the dumpster, or donate them. Meals on Wheels’ new location meant that we were the first call.
We were able to quickly secure this wonderful donation and mango chutney was born.
In fact, we buy our bananas from Earl’s Organic Produce, which is right across the street. Earls has the only banana ripening room on the West Coast. “They literally drive them across the street,” said David. “They bring them over on a forklift.”
Forklifted bananas…so satisfying. Even more satisfying is the knowledge that Meals on Wheels clients are getting the freshest food possible.