By Kristie Snyder,
The first thing you notice when you walk into GreenStar's new central kitchen and bakery facility is its size. The place is cavernous. The second thing you notice — it smells amazing. It seems odd that barbecue sauce and baked goods could combine into one tantalizing aroma, but that's exactly what was happening the day I visited. (If I had to list the third thing, it would be the floor. It's a delightful shade of bright blue.)
The new facility, designed by GreenStar's architect Pam Wooster with input from Deli and Bakery staff, is about 2760 square feet. Prepared Foods Manager Erik Lucas gave me a tour, showing off the new walk-in cooler and freezer, a loading area, sushi station, dishroom (itself about the size of the old Deli space), and the expansive kitchen and bakery area, loaded with gleaming stainless steel appliances (over 60 pieces of new equipment were installed), and humming with busy staff members cooking up old favorites and new recipes.
"It's certainly like nothing GreenStar has ever seen," said General Manager Brandon Kane. "It's gorgeous, efficient, and state-of-the-art. Outside of the colleges, I'm unaware of a production kitchen on this scale in this town."
That increased scale will allow GreenStar to do several things. The Co-op's catering program will be greatly expanded. New Deli and Bakery products are already in both stores, and will continue to appear. If a third store location is added in years to come, "that would just be added to the delivery route, as we've consolidated all of our production into one hub," Brandon said. The possibility of wholesaling GreenStar-made food to other area retailers is also being explored.
Central Kitchen and Bakery staff moved into the space in late March. Each department has its own dedicated space in the new kitchen, and they share a dishroom, the walk-in cooler and freezer, and a loading bay that can accommodate full pallets of ingredients coming in, while sending out loaded carts of products to be delivered to the West-End and Dewitt Mall locations. A huge white board lists each day's production needs, and when the food is cooked and cooled, a crew of night packers readies it for the morning delivery rounds.
"The staff loves the new space," said Sous-Chef John Ward. "People have the space and equipment to do their jobs, and we've been experimenting fearlessly!" The products of that experimentation have just arrived in the stores, and include bento boxes, grilled chicken and vegan burritos, and new hummus varieties. "We'll also be rotating more new and seasonal recipes into the service case and hot bar," said Erik. "We're developing and testing new things every day. And the extra space gained in the West-End Deli will allow us to expand the sandwich and juice menus by summer."
The Bakery has more space, too, and also new equipment that allows for more production. "We got an awesome new sheeter that lets us roll dough to different thicknesses," said Pastry Chef Jillian Brazel. New Bakery items already in the stores include freshly baked cinnamon rolls, vegan fruit turnovers, and pie-sized lemon tarts. The Bakery can also now accommodate more and bigger orders for custom-decorated cakes, dessert platters, and wedding cakes, and will be adding options to the new catering menu.
Catering has been offered on a limited basis in the past, but the program is now in full-swing and can accommodate orders of any size, off-site or held at the adjoining Space @ GreenStar, where a pass-through area allows for direct catering service. "We've had more and more requests, and we're really excited about being able to offer a full-service catering operation. Restaurant Week is the first week in June and we'll be introducing our catering menu then. We're doing two brunches and a dinner in the Space, and a pop-up cupcake stand at the Dewitt Mall store."
Though the staff is well settled in at this point, the central kitchen hasn't yet reached its full potential. Additional staffers are still being hired, and additional delivery trips to the stores may be added to the existing morning route. Keep your eyes open when you visit the Deli, hot bars, or bakery cases in either store, because you never know what may come out of the kitchen next. "We're excited to keep growing," John said, "and keep making delicious new food."
New in the Deli
If you like Field Roast products, you'll be excited about their new vegan cheese, Chao Slices, in three flavors.
We've got a new vegan cheese from the folks who continue to offer so many delicious vegan meat alternatives — Chao Slices, by Field Roast. They can be found on the top shelf of our cheese case, with oodles of other vegan cheese options! Chao Slices are a vegan, coconut-based cheese alternative seasoned with a traditionally fermented soy product called chao by the Vietnamese. Field Roast blends Asian and European traditions by partnering a family in Taiwan, who makes the chao, with a Greek cheesemaker located in Seattle. Instead of relying upon traditional dairy cheese flavors, they've come up with flavors that "celebrate the brilliance of the plant-based kingdom": Coconut Herb with Black Pepper, Creamy Original with Chao Tofu, and Tomato Cayenne with Spicy Peppers. Try pairing them with Field Roast Deli Slices for a terrific sandwich, slap one onto a hand-formed Field Roast Burger for a cheeseburger, slice into salads, or just eat 'em plain! Grilled cheese, anyone?