Topeka retirement communities offer restaurant-style dining

Staff also cater to special dietary needs of residents

Many retirement communities are moving away from cafeteria- and buffet-style meals and opting for restaurant-style dining complete with servers that take orders from the table.


At Atria Hearthstone, 3415 S.W. 6th Ave., meals are a culinary experience, said Thaddeus Studebaker, assistant executive director of the independent living and assisted living community.

Many of the chefs have a background in hospitality services, having worked at hotels and restaurants.

“We always look for experienced chefs with a good culinary background,” said Kirk Brooks, national operations specialist.

RELATED: Read more retirement stories in our special section here.

Menus are developed by the community chef and a dietitian comes in quarterly. Typically, there are two specials every day and a full menu of other options. An “anytime cafe” also provides drinks and snacks, some of which are made in-house.

Residents can take part in Food for Thought, a monthly opportunity for them to voice their likes and dislikes to the chef.

“We’ve changed a lot of things based on residents’ preferences,” Brooks said.

Decisions are “resident-driven,” Studebaker added.

A favorite dish that doesn’t get phased out is chicken fried steak, Studebaker said. The meat is bought locally at Herman’s Meat & Smokehouse.

The facility tries to source local ingredients as much as possible and incorporate fresh produce daily. It makes about 90 percent of its food from scratch.

Related: See the digital copy of the 2016 Retirement Special Section here.

Staff can help those with dietary restrictions, such as a gluten allergy, to select foods, Brooks said.

In addition to the regular dining spaces, Atria Hearthstone has a private dining room, which can be reserved when family members are in town or for events like birthday celebrations, Studebaker said.

Residents also can take advantage of dinner outings to local restaurants, which are part of its engaged life and activities program.

Studebaker said meals are an integral experience because they provide a chance for residents to socialize and be part of a community.

Independent living residents at Thornton Place, 2901 S.W. Armstrong Ave., also have sit-down dining service. There are a variety of choices, especially at lunch, which seems to be the “big meal for this age group,” said general manager Terry Gingrich.

“They get an opportunity where they’re not stuck with just one choice,” he said.

The community employs an executive chef who heads the kitchen, as well as a sous chef and an evening cook.

In addition to providing three meals a day, Thornton Place also has a snack bar stocked with fruit, yogurt, baked goods and drinks that are available 24/7.

“Residents don’t have to spend any money on groceries,” Gingrich said.

They also have a chance to give feedback. Kiosks with iPads have been set up, and residents can fill out a survey on the quality of food and service. The ratings and comments are anonymous.

“It’s a good tool,” Gingrich said. “Really, their biggest complaint once they’ve been here a few months is that they’ve gained three or four pounds.”

One challenge Gingrich has found is the changing health needs of individual residents. The facility tries to accommodate residents as much as possible by offering diabetic-friendly options and healthy options like fish.

Brewster Place, 1205 S.W. 29th, which has dining rooms in its independent living, assisted living and health care center, also has restaurant-style dining.

A dietitian develops meals, especially for the assisted living and health care center residents, said Claudia Larkin, chief operating officer. A majority of the food is made from scratch. They have two specials per day and a variety of other options on the menu. A bistro is a more casual option, offering sandwiches and other items that residents can order.

Residents also enjoy special meals that involve outside grilling or sharing a meal with family and friends, Larkin added.


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A person’s sense of taste and smell may change as one ages, and food may seem to lose flavor. Extra spices and herbs can add a little zest.

Medicines also may change how food tastes, or cause a person to feel less hungry. Talk to your physician about these changes.

Sometimes, chewing food becomes harder as a person ages. Perhaps dentures don’t fit as well as before, or your gums become sore. Eat foods that are softer and easier to chew. A dentist also may be able to help.

Source: National Institute on Aging


Prime Time, a special section in Sunday, Oct. 10, 2016's issue of The Topeka Capital-Journal, explores the issues facing individuals as they approach retirement age, including downsizing and housing options, financial planning, questions to ask when transitioning into an independent living or assisted living facility and caregiving considerations.

The special section also features a directory of amenities at independent living and assisted living facilities in northeast Kansas, as well as a list of community resources that senior citizens and their families may find helpful. Additional stories and photos can be viewed at