Chef Jamie Bostian had just started his new job as executive chef at The Pines At Davidson, an upscale retirement community in North Carolina, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. States all across the country began closing restaurants, bars and other retail outlets in an effort to contain the virus.
Like so many chefs in the industry, Bostian had to quickly shift gears—pivoting from traditional foodservice prep and planning for a new restaurant, bar, marketplace and coffee-gelato kiosk on the property to essentially becoming a food supplier and delivery service for the hundreds of seniors living on the grounds in independent and assisted living residences.
Now, instead of serving three meals a day in the dining room, he cooks up batches of food from a rotating menu and boxes it all up with his staff, who then drive the packages to doorsteps using the Pines’ van normally reserved for human transport.
He didn’t HAVE to do all this. But people who know Bostian say this is exactly the kind of person he is.
“Tears came to my eye when I talked to Chef Jamie and learned about what he was doing to make his residents so happy during these times and to help all the small businesses around him locally,” says Chef Jay Ziobrowski, president of ACF Chefs of Charlotte and a long-time friend. “Jamie is a powerhouse of an ACF member as well as vice president of our chapter.”
During my interview with Bostian, he speaks very matter-of-factly with his native Carolina accent; he is certainly not patting himself on the back for the work he’s been doing lately. It’s clear that he’s just passionate about feeding others, especially seniors stuck in their home because of their high-risk status when it comes to COVID-19 complications.
“One thing sort of led to another,” he says, noting the chain of events that led to him and his team to start delivering hot meals to the residents’ doorsteps, followed by delivering ice cream from a local creamery, followed by delivering boxes of produce and meats from local farms, followed by donating leftover cooked food to a local food bank.
“The one thing our guests look forward to every day is the meal we serve them, and especially now that they have nowhere to go,” says Bostian. “Of course we need food for survival, but that’s no fun and we believe food should be an experience, even if we can’t serve them in our dining room. Even though every day there is a new challenge, we are trying to make things as ‘normal’ as possible for our residents.”
Many of the roughly 400 residents are alumni or retired professors of nearby Davidson College. Of that group, about 320 residents are living in independent apartments, cottages and villas, and about 80 are in assisted living on the healthcare side. Bostian’s team feeds both groups, but assisted living residents receive three hot meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a day as opposed to one.
Independent living residents place their meal orders the morning of delivery by taping their menus to the outside of their doors, which are then collected and processed by the culinary team for delivery to their doorstep later that day. The assisted living residents receive three meals per day served on trays to their rooms. Bostian says his team has been going through 400 boxes a day, including various sizes of molded fiber boxes and between 300 and 400 soup containers—all of which are compostable and eco-friendly because that is important to the residents.
“We’ve been using this time when our dining rooms are closed to test pilot new concepts and dishes because we basically have a captive audience,” says Bostian. “Our volume really hasn’t changed like it has for many restaurants, even for those doing curbside, and we are blessed by that. I just thought, ‘why don’t we use our resources and power to help not just our residents but also our community?”
That thinking led, first to partnering with Two Scoops Creamery, a local ice cream shop in Mooresville, to offer a free scoop of ice cream every Friday, and now, pints-to-go so there’s no need to go to the grocery store. That got Bastian thinking that maybe they should offer the residents more grocery items, so he reached out to local farms to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables that they box up and offer for $25. “Based on availability, we try to give them fresh berries, apples, salad mix and other produce that they can enjoy without a lot of prep work,” he says.
Next came the idea to partner with a local farm to bring in ground beef and other products. “Most of their business was through restaurants, and they put a (social media) post out that they need to sell 1,000 pounds of ground beef a week to hit their numbers, and what we’re doing here is push more local product and offer chef-driven food, so it was a win-win,” says Bostian, who also includes notes about the local products in the boxes to educate the residents. “It would be easy to buy product from the big guys but it’s really the smaller businesses that are hurting at this time, and we want to help them stay afloat.”
Most recently, Bostian started buying spices from nearby Motown Spice for use in dishes, and he’s been talking to the owner about possibly developing smaller, retail sizes for inclusion in the grocery boxes. Each day, any extra food that his kitchen has leftover now goes to Feeding Charlotte, who picks up the food and distributes it to local homeless shelters and churches for people and families in need. One week, Bostian’s team donated 50 pounds of food to the organization.
On the assisted living side, even though many of those meals are pre-determined based on special dietary requirements, Bostian has been using the local product when he can. One week, Howard Family Farm donated a bunch of Easter tulips in vases to the assisted living residents. The farm plants flowers after harvesting its row crops, which Bostian also purchases during the season. “It’s little acts of kindness like these that really make their day,” he says.
All of these developments morphed out of necessity. “We had to think of ways to feed our residents and keep them stockpiled on essentials without them having to go out,” Bostian says. Deliveries now include basics like toilet paper, paper towels and more. “We will even deliver their mail to them if they need the help. We’re just trying to take care of the community because we care about them.”
Bostian says he’s grateful to stay busy when so many in the hospitality industry suddenly found themselves out of work in March. “It’s been the opposite for us; we have been trying to get new hires in.”
Other than feeding the residents and helping keep their refrigerators and pantries stocked, Bostian works hard each day to ensure the safety of both his team and residents. “We do temperature checks every morning when our staff get in, and any new employee and even vendors entering the building must go through a health screening,” he says. “If you have a fever or any symptoms you are immediately sent home.” Because of the high-risk status of the Pines’ population, there’s now a security guard stationed at the entrance to check anyone coming through.
In the kitchen, Bostian has set up prep stations so workers remain six-feet apart; maintains a rule of one-person-only for the elevators, and he and his team are constantly disinfecting surfaces and high-traffic areas. He also makes sure everyone is washing their hands regularly (and actually counting for 20 seconds), and he recently switched to a higher-grade sanitizer. In addition, alarms on the dishmachines further ensure proper temperatures during cleaning, and just like any day, Bostian’s team continues to maintain strict temperature logs for the food.
When it comes to the deliveries, Bostian says they focus on maintaining social distancing with mostly contactless delivery, and on keeping the drop-off time consistent every day depending on what “zone” a resident lives in so they know when to expect a delivery (there are six “zones” on the campus).
Prior to joining The Pines, Bostian spent 11 years rising through the ranks at the Peninsula Yacht Club on Lake Norman in Cornelius, ultimately landing the top tier role as executive chef. A graduate of Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina (the school was moved to Charlotte during his last year), Bostian worked at various restaurants, hotels and a golf club throughout the region before landing at the yacht club.
He believes his club background and CEC status helped him land the job at the cushy retirement community that is The Pines; the directors were looking to elevate the foodservice program to make it more on par with other high-end resorts catering to aging Baby Boomers who are enthusiastic about food and fine-dining (picture singer and Margaritaville restaurateur Jimmy Buffet’s $1 billion investment in a retirement community in Dayton Beach, Florida). Bostian was also recruited to help develop and implement a new bar and pub on the premises as part of a multi-million dollar renovation plan. Despite that COVID-19 put the pause button on much of our lives, Bostian’s team is continuing to develop the new foodservice concepts with plans to open later this year.
“While we have many members of the Great Generation, the new generation of retired residents have different expectations and wants when it comes to food and dining,” he says. “When I worked at a club or restaurant we would always gear up for a busy weekend, but here, every day is a weekend. We are also less affected by weather. Working at a yacht club on a lake, if it was raining we were dead, but if it was sunny we were slammed.”
Before the pandemic hit, Bostian’s joke is that he was out playing with his eight-year-old daughter in the backyard on an 80-degree Spring day that he would never had been able to do had he still worked at a club. On top of a nice work-life balance, Bostian has enjoyed being of such service to his residents.
“I’m just very big on the thinking that if you take care of community, community will take care of you,” he says. In these times, indeed, community is everything.