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Living Without Limits

Podcast #11: Food, glorious food!

“A great dining experience doesn’t just fill our stomachs; it strengthens our social bonds and promotes our emotional wellbeing.”

In this delicious episode, you’ll discover how Cheri Boublis, Senior Director of Hospitality Services, and her culinary partners are exploring new horizons in dining that are sure to wow The Arboretum Villas’ residents and guests.

FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT FROM OUT PODCAST:

Nitsa Foundos:

Hello. Welcome to Living Without Limits, a fun and informative podcast about The Arboretum Villas at Plymouth Place in La Grange Park, Illinois. I’m your host, Nitsa Foundos, and joining me today is Cheri Boublis, Senior Director of Hospitality Services, and today we are talking about my favorite topic, food. Welcome, Cheri.

Cheri Boublis:

Thank you. And I should point out, it’s my favorite topic as well.

Nitsa Foundos:

Well, I’ve got to tell you, there’s no one that does this better than you, and I can’t wait to get into this. So, let’s get started. What is it about food and how did you get involved in the industry?

Cheri Boublis:

When I go back to, I guess my college days, I had an opportunity to work for a catering company in Chicago. Back then, it was called Gapers. And they did some incredibly, I’m going to say, just really bold catering events at Navy Pier for the Chicago Symphony, the Lyric Opera. And it introduced me to a world where you could kind of create this magical setting anywhere you went and really deliver incredible food.  

Nitsa Foundos:

Wow.

Cheri Boublis:

But I think the journey really began when I started working at Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago. For those local Chicago-ans, I think it was a huge part of our history. I think the restaurant division with the Frangos and how they celebrated holidays was an amazing training center for me. So from there, I actually went into healthcare. I worked for Rush Medical Center and then after that I had 15 years of travel throughout the country supporting, not only food service in healthcare settings, but also design and construction.

Nitsa Foundos:

As we’re talking about people’s journeys, let’s talk about how you came to Plymouth Place.

Cheri Boublis:

Okay. That journey started a little over three years ago. Jay Biere, the CEO, and I had worked formally in the past together, as well as Katie Freese, Senior Director for Support Services. So we all had kind of a common connection. And I want to say we also had a very common work ethic and similar ways in which we approached our jobs, projects. So when I got the phone call from Jay, I was very intrigued.

Nitsa Foundos:

Oh my goodness. Well, Cheri, let me ask you a question. When we think about food in this senior living environment, what sets us apart from other communities with regard to quality of the food? Why do you think we hit it out of the park every time? What truly makes the difference?

Cheri Boublis:

Well, I think there’s several factors. I’m going to say the first one is we really do a lot of what is termed in the industry “scratch production.” So our soups, many of our breads are baked on sites. A lot of the items we prepare are made from scratch, and we believe that the true quality starts with the items that we purchase, so we have some amazing Chicago local vendors that we use. But then we have a really strong culinary program. We have an executive chef, Lily Corpus, who is very committed to doing the right thing in terms of menu variety, in quality. So that’s a real big part of it. And that generates meals that feed this entire building every day. So I think we’re somewhere close to 900 meals a day

Nitsa Foundos:

So Cheri, when a new resident comes to The Arboretum Villas, they receive meal credits. Those meal credits could be equivalent to an approximation of $400 per person. So as it relates to declining balances and how it works within this food program, could you elaborate a little bit more?

Cheri Boublis:

Absolutely. So, I think the best way we can kind of explain our take on the declining balance is we set out to really create something exciting for residents. We knew that each month they had kind of a bucket of money in which to work with, but we wanted to see it beyond just having a meal here at Plymouth Place, though we think that will be a great experience. We wanted to give them choice because we really feel that this is their home, this is their community.

We have some great partnerships with local restaurants that really give residents the opportunity to either dine there or have the food delivered directly to the door here at Plymouth Place. They include The Elm, Marco’s Kitchen, Kama Bistro, Milkstop, Q Barbecue. And we realize everyone at some point wants a pizza, so we’ve included Rosati’s, as well.

Cheri Boublis:

So our residents have the ability to use those declining dollars, whether it be through our own marketplace, which is a store that we recently opened that can be a great place to pick up some quick groceries, a fast meal, a bottle of wine, or if they want to use one of the local restaurants, they can enjoy their meal and literally just sign the check and finish their evening, and we will take care of everything. It shows up on their declining balance, and they’ve had an opportunity that they wouldn’t have had three years ago.

Nitsa Foundos:

You know, I don’t know of any other community that is doing that type of programming.

Cheri Boublis:

Well, I think what we see is that type of flexibility is going to be a differentiator for us. So, we’ve even looked beyond local restaurants. We do a farmer’s market four times a year celebrating seasonal produce. At that time, we will partner with Publican bakeries. They are a James Beard Award winner. We think their bread and bakery products are wonderful. So those are the kind of things that we seek out and we incorporate into our community.

Our goal moving forward is to continue to expand on it. We are partnering with Life Enrichment. I know at the end of the month we have an actor from the Goodman Theater. He’s also been at Steppenwolf, Joe Dempsey. He’s going to do a performance on Halloween for the Raven. But I think what makes it even more special is amazing cocktails will be served.

I think last Saturday we had a performer from the former Pump Room who had come here to sing in the pub on a Saturday evening. We rolled out a new menu. So, we really looked to bring entertainment to the convenience of the residents who live here.

But I think in addition to that, as we look to the future, we have a lot of things coming up. We recently planned an event at a trout fishery where two chefs who work with us as consulting partners. One is Jim DeWan, he is a former food writer for the Chicago Tribune and Elaine Sikorski, she is a former executive chef at Nomades. Both of those will be kind of escorting people on a lot of journeys through Chicago and kind of this big tour of restaurants and experiences that we think are really curated to people who love food and love the idea of adventure.

I think our relationship with these two chefs is just one example of our continued commitment to just looking for things that are interesting, whether it’s a bourbon distillery or exploring the history of candy, which is one that I know we have coming up. I think we just look at taking the knowledge base that they have and really creating an event around it. And I think we have one coming up right now for a trip, because it’s Hispanic Heritage Month. We are going to the Mexican Museum of Art in Pilsen. And on the bus ride there, two chefs will be doing a whole exploration of Mexican candy, Mexican pastries.

Nitsa Foundos:

Ooh, sign me up.

Cheri Boublis:

And horchata.

Nitsa Foundos:

Woo.

Cheri Boublis:

So, we really try to infuse food into just about everything we do. So, by all means, our expanse in food goes really throughout many areas of Chicago in the surrounding suburbs.

Nitsa Foundos:

Well, we do know that it’s all about the experience. And you know as well as I do, The Arboretum Villas is about choices and options. The fact that we have you overseeing the entire campus is an amazing opportunity for us. Many of these ideas that you have would not come to fruition without your support and your connections. So we’re truly blessed to have you. So Cheri, when we think of The Arboretum Villas and the dining experiences and destinations that we have created and are continuing to create in the near future, I’d truly love for you to elaborate on that, so that people can then identify what do we currently have today and what are we setting ourselves up for in the very near future?

Cheri Boublis:

Well, let me start with a little bit of about what we have today. In Plymouth Place today, we have our Sarah Tudor dining room, which is open seven days a week. It is probably the destination for people to come, socialize with others, enjoy their dinner. I think that is kind of our cornerstone of dining.

In addition to that, The Pub has been this hidden gem. And I think what we quickly learned when we opened The Pub is when you combine great wine, great music, and great food all in one setting, it just becomes a magnet for so many people to come and just enjoy their evening. So, we’ve taken the food and the wine and we’ve kind of continued to explore what the best options are. We work with a great wine distributor, Romano Brothers, which is a local company. They help us keep the selection interesting and fresh. And in addition to that, I think we have partnered with the Old Town School of Folk Music recently. So, we have kind of opened up a whole new world of entertainment within that pub, and I think we will just continue to see it grow. In addition to that, the Bistro is kind of your one stop destination for breakfast, for lunch. It’s a very casual environment.

The Bistro, which is actually the project that I started when I first came here, won a design award. So, it’s a really beautiful setting and it’s just an easy destination to go for breakfast, for lunch, for a quick snack, cup of coffee.

In addition to all of that, right now we offer a variety of programs that are linked to food. One of the ones that I think we do incredibly well is our Culinary Adventures program. That is really connected to our dietician, who is onsite here. Her focus is on wellness for the community. Each month we feature a topic that is really based on research within the medical community on nutrition and the impact on your health. And then we always have an amazing meal to pair with it. We recently explored the Mind Diet, which a lot of that research actually happened here in Chicago at Rush Medical Center. We had a great meal that was reflective of the suggested items that you eat.

And the Mind Diet was really based on keeping minds healthy. Postponing dementia. Just keeping, I think, current with nutrition and what is happening in the medical community is something that people are incredibly interested in here.

We also have a lot of other food-related events that are very frequent. We clearly celebrate everyone’s birthday in a huge way each month here. We have a wine club, where we explore different wines. We recently added an outdoor pizza oven to our repertoire. So, actually tonight is a perfect night. It’s a cool fall night. But that won’t stop us from sitting on a balcony with some heaters and enjoying some wood-fired pizza out of our oven, as well as some great wine, wonderful desserts. So, we really focus on the socialization aspect of it.

So, all of these great dining options kind of culminated into the design of 30 North, which happens to be the new restaurant we are building in the Center for Healthy Living. And I think that restaurant, when we really started to look at the design and the concept that was going to drive that restaurant, we really wanted to make it special. So, we set out with basically a mission statement.

I’ll share it with you Nitsa. A great dining experience doesn’t just fill our stomachs, it strengthens our social bonds and promotes our emotional wellbeing. That’s why it is the cornerstone of our new Center for Healthy Living. It will be an upscale, full-service restaurant. Respecting the area’s varied cultural traditions, its global fit flavors, our curated food and beverage program will celebrate the season and the culinary talent that surrounds us. It’s a transparent partnership with our producers, vendors, and culinary community. Our locally sourced and expertly prepared products will ensure a dining experience that is consummately American, the best of the Midwest, all in an elegantly appointed setting.

Nitsa Foundos:

Oh my goodness. That’s amazing. Can’t wait. Do we have any idea, projection, in terms of when it could be completed or at least the building up?

Cheri Boublis:

So, I think we’re looking at a earlier start than we originally anticipated. So, we’re looking at fourth quarter of 23. So probably this, a year from this December.

The design of the restaurant is absolutely stunning. So, I think what the beauty of this restaurant is because it’s in the Center for Healthy Living, we’ve really focused on the, we call it “day parts” in the restaurant industry. So, we know in morning hours when people are using the pool, maybe practicing Tai Chi, going to the fitness center, that things like custom-made smoothies, a juice bar, and really great coffee in our partnership with Metropolis Coffee, a local roaster here in Chicago, is going to help us along with that, is really what people are going to look for in the morning.

But then based on lighting and some very subtle changes, this restaurant really transforms itself into a beautiful dining destination for evening. And I think that’s where we are going to really see a menu that focuses on local, seasonal, seasonal food that is made-to-order for each meal that comes in there. And I think the beauty of it is that those very meals and that chef has the same ability to provide catering experiences offsite in people’s villas. So that whether they have the party in our restaurant or in their apartment or in their villa, we’ve made a convenient for them.

Nitsa Foundos:

Wow. All right. So Cheri, when we think of all of the ideas that have come to fruition, such as exploring the dining dollars and being able to apply them to local restaurants, to taking that a step further and being able to build out all these different dining destinations within The Arboretum Villas, I’m, I’m just so taken aback because I don’t know anyone else that has the creativity that you and your team have and you continue to deliver and there’s always going to be something new coming. So, for all of you listeners out there, it doesn’t stop here. This is not the end of the culinary destination train. So, Cheri, why don’t you talk a little bit more about, there’s room service or another way that they can leverage Lily, the chef?

Cheri Boublis:

Nitsa, there are so many options. Maria Sharabaika is the person who all of our residents go to for event planning. She takes it from the room to the linen, to the floral arrangements, to the menu, to the wine pairing. And for many of those options, people will sometimes want some very specific items.

A resident recently had a birthday and she wanted chicken crepes for 60 of her friends and our chef came in, prepared it, it was a beautiful meal. She said she will always remember this birthday. So I think that is just one example of the fact that when we designed The Arboretum Villas and certainly Plymouth Place, we looked at creating a lot of space, whether it’s a private dining room, whether it’s some of the public spaces or community spaces in The Arboretum Villas, where people could book whether it be a bartender, a chef, a full team of people so that they could invite friends and have all the wonderful pleasures of entertaining people and family, but without any of the work.

So, I think as we look at this entire campus, whether it’s for eating indoors or out, you have a culinary team kind of standing behind you that is a full support culinary team that’s really going to make events and just casual get togethers just very special.

Nitsa Foundos:

And I completely agree with you, Cheri. Every week there are outside organizations that leverage one of our main halls here for these large gatherings, presentations, lectures, parties, weddings, you name it. And it’s amazing because we are well-known in the area for a destination to book a fun event.

Cheri Boublis:

You know, I think we really try to meet the needs of all our residents. And as I’ve mentioned before, I often think about things that are really important to me. And there’s occasions where I simply don’t want to leave. I just want to sit in my home and enjoy a meal brought to me. And we can do that. So, a lot of our residents really enjoy the opportunity, whether it’s for a football game, whether it’s just something they happen to really enjoy watching on TV, for it to simply be a knock on the door in their meal handed to them. And it is something that we have been committed to doing. People really enjoy the option and we continue to move forward with it.

Nitsa Foundos:

All right. Cheri, I have a question for you. Out of all the projects that you have done in your professional career, which one was your favorite?

Cheri Boublis:

Okay. That’s going to be pretty easy because I look at The Arboretum Villas as a place that I would want to live. But everything I’ve done with regards to the design development for the restaurant, I’ve worked on the design project from other aspects, to the menu, to how we’ve looked at leveraging our existing program in what we designed for over there, I think has all been done with the intent that it needed to be a place that I would enjoy living at. And I think every aspect of this project truly is beautiful and I think represents a really amazing place for people to live and a lifestyle that I think many would be envious of.

Nitsa Foundos:

Well, thank you so very much, Cheri. This is an amazing experience for all of us to watch, and you’re such a large part of it and the success of it.

So, if you’d like to know more about our beautiful villas and all our fabulous culinary options, give us a call at (708) 482-6634. You can also visit ArboretumVillas.org to sign up for one of our events. Or this is always an option; stop by, say hello to Shelly at our Design Center that’s located at 26 South LaGrange Road, right here, downtown LaGrange. And we’re open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 5:30. Thank you so much, everyone, for tuning into Living Without Limits. We look forward to talking with you again. Until then, I’m Nitsa Foundos.

 

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