Eric Eisenberg joined Swedish seven years ago. As non-profit health system's executive chef, he oversees its culinary initiatives as well as managing its retail catering and conference services. A frequent speaker at industry events, we asked him to explain Café 1910's menu and positioning.
“Our goal is simple — to provide wholesome and delicious food, without a lot of artificial ingredients in it. We have a commitment to make everything from scratch within reason. We source as much as we can locally, but are more focused on overall quality than from how far away our food has come.
“Our catch-phrase is ‘Fresh, Natural and Something for Everyone.’ I've told many of our customers, ‘We do the label reading so you don't have to.’
“In the beginning, we put every idea we had on the table for consideration. Originally, we conceived the Café more as a market that would fit into the mall with the other shops, a kind of Whole Foods environment with lots of ready-to-eat prepared food and retail items.
“Over time, we realized it's best to build on things you're already doing right; that's how the final concept evolved. It's a mistake many operators make when they go to room service — they throw out everything they're doing and start over just for the sake of change.
“The Café was not primarily intended as a staff cafeteria — it was designed for the community first and the staff second. There are many people who live in townhouses nearby within walking distance and there is plenty of parking as well.
“Many customers looking to dine out can come here more easily than going to where the commercial restaurants are in town. And we offer variety: Dad can have a burger, Mom can have a salad, the kids can have pizza or tacos. They all can eat in an attractive dining room while knowing that the food is healthful and made from fresh ingredients.
“As a new facility, we were able to specify the equipment we wanted and based it on the concepts we wanted rather than the other way around. Café 1910 has a full-service kitchen with a char broiler, a flat top, an oven, a six-burner stove, and a combi oven. We are able to prepare many more items to order because of that. Station holding wells can be can be set to be either hot or cold, which gives us more seasonal flexibility. The sneeze guards can be quickly switched from self service style to an enclosed merchandising mode, depending on service needs.
“Breakfast is popular here and for that we use cage-free eggs, nitrite-free bacon, fresh potatoes. Instead of pork sausage links we use an apple chicken sausage link. We also offer vegetarian sausage patties and whole-grain cereals. The menu is a la carte, with a custom omelet priced at $5.75, seasonal scratch pancakes at $2.95, a strip of bacon or a sausage link for $1.00.
“From the beginning, we said that if we used only high-quality ingredients we would have to charge street-level prices. A grilled, Washington-grown chicken breast sandwich is $8.95 and a 1/3 pound burger we grind here from from Washington state raised beef is $8.95. A charbroiled herb-marinated portobello burger is $7.95. Grilled items come with our signature polenta fries and fresh pickled vegetable slaw. But you can also get tacos for $2 each, and those are very popular with employees.
“We've standardized some things across our five campuses — each has a taqueria and a global station, for example. But we're moving to a system where the individual sous chefs at each campus create daily menu options locally. We want to take some of the best practices here back to the other facilities.”