Corner Cafe: New Team, New Menu, New Vision
The new team at Corner Café:“We are simply going to blow away any pre-conceived notions about food offered at healthcare facilities.”
This summer’s re-launch of the Corner Café on the campus of the Orthopedic & Sports Institute (OSI) was a high priority initiative.
Located inside Recovery Inn, OSI’s specialized recovery facility, the Corner Café was provided a primary directive in 2017: to elevate culinary quality to match the facilities they serve.
Corner Café began in 2010 as a necessary part of OSI’s plan to create what was a first in the country: a skilled nursing facility attached to a surgery center and dedicated solely to orthopedic recovery.
“When we found that there wasn’t an existing recovery facility in the area that had everything we wanted,” said Dr. Errol Springer, one of the founding members of OSI, “we decided to build one.”
That vision became Recovery Inn.
Designed to feel like a five-star hotel, Recovery Inn boasts 12 private healing suites with boutique hotel inspired amenities and an array of coordinated services—including personalized pain management and daily physical/occupational therapy—to prepare patients for a safe, rapid return to their lifestyles.
“From our inception, we wanted the entire experience here to be 100% patient-focused,” said Curt Kubiak, CEO of OSI. “Everything needed would be available right here: physician clinics, MRI, surgery center, physical therapy, skilled nursing, and a restaurant.”
And as any patient or visitor to a medical facility can attest, food is important. The Corner Café was strategically placed at the center of the OSI campus, focusing, at least initially, on providing made-to-order meals for patients rehabbing from joint replacement surgery. Later, the Café expanded its footprint, inviting visitors and staff to take advantage of the dining options offered at the Panera-inspired space.
With the construction of the walkway that connects OSI and Fox Valley Hematology, additional serving opportunities arose. FVHO’s Café Debe opened in 2015. Debbie Wichmann, the owner and namesake of Debe, ratcheted up some friendly competition.
Soon, a lot of on-campus staff and visitors were making their way across the walkway to FVHO for food.
At times like these, re-thinking a good thing to make it better becomes a priority.
Working with the team from Eduro Healthcare, managing partner of the skilled nursing facility, Recovery Inn Executive Director Shaena Van Handel forged ahead with a simple premise.
“We were going to utilize the Eduro culinary team (based in Salt Lake), learn what they were excelling at, and then bring together a local staff that really knows our area, our culture, our food,” said Van Handel.
Eduro flew in a team of established culinary veterans who met with the newly hired Director of Culinary Services, Jason Damato. Hailing from a family steeped in the restaurant business, and a guy who knows the importance of a Friday fish fry, a Door County fish boil, and a beer-braised brat, Damato was the former general manager at the world-class Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse in the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. He occupied that same position at High Cliff Restaurant, the popular supper club and banquet facility in Sherwood.
Damato understands the business and knew how to get foodies in a room. Damato’s first hire: Head Chef & Nutritional Services Manager Denny Ahlborg.
Ahlborg has worked at Appleton’s Beefeater’s British Grille as well as their sister property Pullman’s at Trolley Square. Ahlborg is also known for creating many of the favorite homemade meal options at The Meat Block, including the ever-popular Meat Block Pot Pies.
Their shared vision: “We are simply going to blow away any pre-conceived notions about food offered at healthcare facilities.”
With the addition of chefs Nathan Hopkins and Kristin VandenWymelenberg from Carmella’s, the Corner Café is primed to continue its culinary trajectory, taking its board of fare where no other area medical facility can follow. And while the Corner Café’s food services to Recovery Inn patients will continue as a priority, its re-launch focused on a brand new lunch and dinner options for visitors and staff.
Ahlborg has put together an extensive menu for all three meal services for guests of the facility, healthy & fresh “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunch options for business professionals in the surrounding area, and a catering product that promises to be second-to-none in the Fox Valley.
“This team is working to absolutely wow our patients at the Recovery Inn, the staffs within the OSI/FVHO facility, and visitors to our campus,” said Damato. “We’re off to the start we wanted.”
Both Damato and Ahlborg are aware of the important role played by Deb Wichman, who closed her café at FVHO to focus on her catering business. They aspire to provide the same level of service and high quality she provided at her eatery.
“Café Debe was here for a relatively short time, but its popularity was immediate,” said Damato. “We wanted those who depended on Café Debe to know were going to be the same type of venue, with the high standards she was willing to set.”
Ahlborg added, “We’re taking care of all three buildings now, Recovery Inn, OSI, and FVHO, and we’re ready for more.”