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Upscale, fresh dining options key to happiness at senior living communities
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Ashton Senior Living's Lori Torres, left, and Kecia Chambers pour drinks for dining room service Tuesday, July 24, 2018. Upscale dining options are becoming more and more popular at senior living facilities, a big change from what used to be.

Ashton Senior Living is always adjusting its menu. The kitchen at the independent and assisted living facility with locations in Gainesville and Lawrenceville has to find a way to please a number of residents, all with different backgrounds and heritage.

“As you get older, a certain food you liked when you were younger doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like it when you get older,” said Curtis McGill, owner of Ashton Senior Living. “So you’ve got all these different things you’re trying to figure out.”

The Club, opening later this summer at Lenbrook Atlanta, might have figured it out the way to please its residents by offering more upscale options.

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Ashton Senior Living food service manager Malinda Nti-Ababir prepares a tray of food for a resident Tuesday, July 24, 2018. Upscale dining options are becoming more and more popular at senior living facilities, a big change from what used to be.
At tasting sessions, residents of the Peachtree Road senior community in Buckhead helped select which dark, light and decaf coffee blends to serve all day in the coffeehouse before it morphs into a dessert-and-drinks spot at night. Even the name, The Club, was chosen by a vote of Lenbrook’s 500 residents.

“The residents here have always created impact, and just because they moved here they don’t want to stop,” said Stephen West, dining services director at Lenbrook. “And food and drink is one of the areas they care about the most.”

Experts say food choices are becoming as important as level of care among people deciding which independent or assisted living community to move into, or whether to move into one at all.

“There is a large trend in senior living toward ‘destination dining,’” said Felicia Crawford, director of hospitality at Canterbury Court in Atlanta. “That means multiple dining venues, all with their own identities. So it feels like having multiple restaurants under one roof.”

At Canterbury Court, the four different venues run the gamut from fine dining to grab-and-go. Residents also can order room service. And wherever they choose to eat, symbols recently added to menus help them identify vegetarian, gluten-free and healthy eating options.

“As the younger generation starts coming in, we’re seeing they’re very health- and wellness-focused,” Crawford said. “Besides still having lots of choices on where to eat, they want to know what’s in various items and is it nutritional.”

Some 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 in the U.S. every day and for many, deciding on the next best place to live is of critical importance. In Georgia, the generation born between 1946 and 1964 is just under 24 percent of the population, according to the most recent census estimates.

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Ashton Senior Living residents get fresh vegetables from the kitchen such as the meatloaf plate with field peas, seasoned rice, and fresh okra and tomatoes served with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Upscale dining options are becoming more and more popular at senior living facilities, a big change from what used to be.
But it’s not always easy to accommodate. McGill said his cooks spend a lot of the time “scratching their head,” trying to figure out what to put on the menu. He said he’s always focused on fresh, though, making sure to acquire ingredients from local farmers markets as often as possible.

“Since I’m from the South and have been here all my life, something I’ve noticed is people from other parts of the country move in and their taste for certain foods is not the same as the taste for Southerners,” McGill said. “So you have to learn how to blend those foods in.”

No matter where they’re from, mobile lifestyles, society’s increased focus on healthy eating and even the emergence of cooking shows has acclimated seniors to a wide variety of dining options. Those expectations don’t disappear just because they move into senior living.

Bruce Rosenblatt, founder of Senior Housing Solutions, a senior living referral service, said senior living communities used to have just a few food options for residents to circle on a sheet of paper for the next day’s meal.

“Now, it’s night and day,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s all waiters and waitresses, fine dining and multiple venues.”

Spurred by a growing market of seniors with honed palates and a willingness to speak up about it, senior living communities are adding open kitchens, brick-oven pizza venues and gluten-free and organically grown menus for residents, said Harris Ader, CEO of the Senior Dining Association, a professional organization of food service personnel in the senior living industry.

McGill is doing his best to contribute to the organically grown portion of that in order to make residents happy with their choice to live at Ashton Senior Living.

“I’ve always had trucks go to farmers markets in College Park bringing fresh stuff every three days,” McGill said. “So we try to cook from scratch most of the time.”

At Allegro Senior Living, some new communities will get rooftop or poolside bars to make its residents happy with their choice, said vice president of dining services Mark Krystopa.

Elsewhere, they’re incorporating “things that would be seen in a nice restaurant setting,” including omelet stations, wine carts and even Bananas Foster stations.

“Everyone who moves here gains the ‘freshman 15,’” Lenbrook resident Jeanne Gambrell joked.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.

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Ashton Senior Living dining room employees prepare for dinner service Tuesday, July 24, 2018. From the left Kecia Chambers, food service manager Malinda Nti-Ababir and Lori Torres set out napkins and condiments on the dining room tables before dinner service.
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