Gary Triolo is the Corporate Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Centrastate Health System in Freehold New Jersey. Four healthcare facilities with 800 patients/residents fall under his umbrella in addition to five retail operations and 220 staff members. Despite his wide ranging duties at Centrastate, Mr. Triolo is the current President-elect of the Greater New Jersey Society for Healthcare Food Service Administrators. GNJSHFA is the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Healthcare Foodservices, a National organization. We had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Triolo on a variety of topics in the healthcare food service industry.
Mr. Triolo, could you talk about your background and how you got into healthcare food service?
As a kid I started off as a bus-boy and waiter then moved to assistant manager at a restaurant. My first corporate food service management job was for the Marriott Corporation at Newark Airport. I moved into the Marriott Corporation’s healthcare division and got great experience moving through multiple facilities. Then I went to a self operated facility and eventually took over as Director at Centrastate in 2005. Now I have been the Corporate Director since 2010.
How have the need and expectations of patients changed since you came into the industry?
I’ve been in the industry 25 years now. Going back, there was a traditional tray line service for patients. Food would be cooked and placed in hotel pans and that would go on the steam table. The menu choices were limited and it was more bulk style cooking then. What has changed is that probably 70% of our market has gone to a room service dining program like I have implemented here or a bed side menu order entry. In our program the diner literally calls down to our call center and we take their order from a very sharp, contemporary menu that is just like in a restaurant. We’re open from 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night and its great because you can order whatever you want at any time.
What has changed about the way you prepare and choose dishes?
It’s a different world. In the old world it was kind of like “here’s your hospital food, good luck!”. Now we are competing with the best of the best. We have executive chefs, we have sous chefs and we have outstanding food quality.
There’s tremendous pressure in the industry to serve local and farm to table. Is this realistic in your environment?
All of our produce is sourced locally as best we can. Our produce vendors that we use are buying from the New Jersey area or the Metro New York area. If it is the offseason some things can’t be locally sourced but we do the best that we can. Our cooking is also freshly prepared with scratch cooking as much as possible. We feature antibiotic free chickens and farm fresh eggs as well as locally produced honey in our cafes.
In addition to the cafe, what other operations do you run?
Well our catering is slamming, it is off the charts. We have an annual cancer survivors event coming up with about 250 people. It is a very important event to honor cancer surveyors so we will do a lot of interesting things that you would not expect to see from a hospital kitchen.
How has the healthy eating and dieting movement impacted what you serve?
We do a lot of fresh smoothies and protein shakes made from plant based whey and we use fresh fruits, kale and spinach. You name it, we use it. We are trying to be as healthy as we can. We’ve included some new things on our menu as well, like quinoa salad and a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad. healthy things that you wouldn’t expect to see on a hospital menu.
We even have a logo on our menus called Nutrilicious, where we do meals that are 550 calories and below and are low in sodium, healthy and nutritious.
How do food vendors play into your success? Are you going to bid or are you part of a group purchasing plan?
We use a group purchasing contract through Healthtrust. However we are self operators, so although we are part of that contract I have more flexibility when ordering. The contract does help drive costs down so it is a big help. It also takes the guesswork out of going to bid and analyzing pricing on a weekly/monthly basis. We are probably ninety percent on contract, the other ten percent I can buy what I want and have flexibility.
How do you source your kitchen equipment? Do you go to bid or do you have “go-to” dealers?
We bid that out. We will get three quotes from three vendors and we go on best price unless we have a good relationship with someone and we are comfortable with the decision.
Have you done any recent renovations in the kitchen or do you have anything planned?
We recently went through an exhaust hood renovation. It was a major ordeal, probably twenty or thirty feet of exhaust hoods.
How are you attracting young professionals to your team at Centrastate?
One of the great thing about healthcare is hours of operation. It is very busy and complicated in a lot of ways but you are done by nine o’clock or so when the kitchen is closed. Hours like that are attractive especially in the chef world.
And again, our food is not like the old structure which was a very institutional way of doing things. Our employee and physician dining is a great benefit, our retail cafes are current and make up a large part of our operation. It is a very modern system that attracts workers.
What is your team like at Centrastate?
My management team consists of an executive chef, a sous chef and cooks. In retail I have a manager who oversees three cafes and there is a supervisor in each cafe. We also have the clinical nutrition division with a manager and ten dietitians on staff. Also catering falls under the chef which is a whole other part of the operation.
You are the incoming President of GNJSHFA. Could you talk about your work there and what some of the benefits of the association are?
Sure. I’ve been on the board for a long time and am the current President Elect, I’ll be taking over for Debra Ryan our current President in January. The benefits are significant. We are all self operators and we lean on each other for help, advice, ideas, program implementations, you name it we are there fore each other. It is a great community of professionals.
We have monthly board meetings, we have an agenda and we run a great chapter. Our annual calendar of educational programs are awesome and are open to all NJ operators.