It’s breakfast time at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Café, and customers are pouring coffee, toasting bagels and grabbing made-to-order omelets. Some are even asking for sushi.
“I came down here the other day and people were buying two or three packs of sushi at 8:30 in the morning. It’s become a big thing,” said Greg Cummings, program manager for the HQC Morale, Welfare and Recreation program.
Fresh sushi available daily is just one of the many changes that resulted from a two-week café renovation that occurred during the Christmas holiday. The renovation allowed the HQC Café staff to better support the goals of the Healthy Base Initiative Smarter Food Movement by placing healthy foods in more prominent places and moving unhealthy choices to less accessible locations.
The renovation also created additional space in an area that many customers said felt cramped.
“Before there was a lot of elbowing as people moved from station to station. Now you see a lot more socializing and people having conversations because the space has opened up so much,” Cummings said.
While the dimensions of the café didn’t actually expand, the space seems larger because tall items were moved against the walls. The beverage station that was in the middle of the room has been relocated to two separate spaces. A coffee and tea station lines the wall between the grill and deli, and fountain drinks are now located just outside the café, which allows customers to get free ice and water when the café is closed.
A new salad bar has replaced the former beverage station and offers 20 fresh ingredients including beans, a protein such as ham or turkey, and two types of cheese, as well as four lettuce choices and three types of pre-made salads.
“With the new salad bar we’re able to offer twice the amount of food, including three composed salads that have ingredients like pasta or tuna fish, and we rotate those daily. We’re also able to offer more fresh vegetables,” said Amy Mong, the cafeteria’s retail manager.
The former pizza station is now along the far, back wall and offers four styles instead of three. In its previous place is the new and popular sushi station. Sushi chefs start preparing varieties that include salmon, tuna, shrimp and crab at 7 a.m. They will also make custom orders.
Increasing the amount of healthy food options available to customers has become more important with the Defense Logistics Agency’s participation in DoD’s Healthy Base Initiative, said HQC Café General Manager Keyvan Khayam, who works for Sodexo, the contractor that provides food services at the HQC.
Before HBI, Sodexo used the Mindful Diet program to promote high-protein, low-fat foods. Mindful Diet signs that show nutrition facts including fat, calories, carbohydrates, etc. also now include information under HBI’s Go for Green initiative. Go for Green is a food-labeling system that identifies an item as a high-performance food, which is marked with a green dot; moderate-performance food, yellow dot; and performance-limiting food, red dot.
Although the aesthetic changes took place in just two weeks, they were years in the making, Cummings and Khayam added.
“We’ve been working this for almost two years, getting comments from customers and doing surveys. One of the reasons it was so hard was everybody wanted the café to be bigger, but we knew we couldn’t do that. We also knew there had to be a way design-wise, so Sodexo came up with a plan,” Cummings said.
The serving area was originally built to accommodate 2,500 people, he added. There are now more than 5,200 employees at the HQC.
Cummings and Khayam said they also hope to further expand customers’ food choices with a guest restaurant program that brings in local eateries one day a week.
“We’re looking at bringing in restaurants with different cuisines such as Indian or Chinese and letting them feature an item from their menu. This will give our customers more options without having to go out at lunch,” Khayam said, adding that the program would likely be in place of the day’s featured entrée.
And just because a food item doesn’t appear on the menu doesn’t mean it’s not available, he added.
“I have one customer who comes in asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you’re willing to wait a couple of extra minutes, we’ll take care of you. We do take time to accommodate people as long as it’s within reason,” he continued.
Khayam and Cummings said they believe the variety of food options, renewed focus on health-conscious items and extra space will please existing customers and attract new ones.
“We’ve gone from being a late ‘70s/early ‘80s establishment to one that’s more contemporary,” Khayam said.
Customers can comment on the changes and provide other feedback by completing a comment card available on the wall between the dessert bar and cash registers.
A two-week renovation that took place in December at the Headquarters Complex Café means more space and more food options for customers. Photo by Beth Reece