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Just what the doctor ordered
St. Joseph’s Hospital cafeteria is an unlikely hit on the Southside
Some cheese biscuits - photo by Lee Futch

I UNCRUMPLE OUT OF BED and board the #14 bus to St. Joseph’s Hospital. White Christmas had been in town and after working as a stagehand for eight straight days of 15-hour shifts followed by a 22-hour workday 8 a.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday, I’m in need.

I’ve found that a terrific cure for most anything (including crumpledness) is food. Maybe that’s why several stagehands likened me to Homer Simpson.

I go in the main hospital entrance, following the signs to the cafeteria, and step into line. The man behind me smiles and starts a conversation. I’m thrilled, because I want to talk with doctors and nurses for my article.

Only he isn’t a doctor. He’s St. Joseph’s friendly, smiling President and CEO Paul P. Hinchey. And before I even have a chance to identify myself, he offers how terrific the food and atmosphere is in the cafeteria.

And he is so right. Short ribs, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and bottled water are my choices. (Mr. Hinchey had ordered takeout so we didn’t have lunch together.)

A great thing about my first adventure is that it mandates a second visit to get my story. I also get to go bowling when I found myself with a free afternoon on that first day. (I bowl a 123 and a 125. The bowling alley restaurant is closed, so that article will have to happen at a later date.)

For visit number two I contact St. Joseph’s Public Relations Manager Betsy Yates. Betsy is terrific in making my second visit happen. This time Lee Futch comes with me to shoot photos, while I concentrate on two things Homer and I do best: talking and eating. And I’m actually getting pretty good at listening as well.

Anne Hopkins is the interim director of dietary and food service until Darlene Laney starts in December (longtime director Bev Britt recently retired). I decide at Yates’s suggestion to come on cheese biscuit day, which happens every other Thursday.

My first question is how, with what they’re charging, does St. Joseph’s makes a profit on their cafeteria? According to Hopkins, “Our primary responsibility is to our patients and our staff. Or philosophy is that we want every employee to be able to afford to eat here.”

But the local community has “recognized that our department is a great place to get a good meal,” she continues. “We have people that come every day to eat and socialize”.

One group of patrons is the Gentlemen’s Club, a jovial group of “Hawaiian-shirt-on Friday” science professors from Armstrong. I dine with members Brent Feske, Scott Mateer and Brett Larson. They eat at St. Joseph’s three or four times a week.

So well-known is their patronage that on Halloween some of their colleagues costumed in Hawaiian shirts and carried St. Joseph’s cups in homage.

Hopkins sits us with R.N. Diane Hinely, Clinical Co-coordinator Judith Braun and Clinical Nurse Specialist Sherry Warnock, who all agree that it’s the combination of affordable, well-seasoned, well-prepared food and friendly environment that makes the cafeteria popular:

“The people who are preparing your food are very proud of what they do. They’re always friendly, always trying to do everything they can to make your lunch as nice as possible,” she says. The ladies, who work 12 hour or longer days, often eat two meals a day there and occasionally even take home food to their families!

In the kitchen, Dot’s worked at St. Joseph’s for 24 years and she makes the cheese biscuits. Peggy has been making the deviled crab every other Friday for 10 years. It’s so popular that a second line for staff only is needed so that employees don’t spend their entire lunch break in line getting their meal.

Peggy says they use as much as 600 pounds of crab meat a day! Rene makes 45 to 50 pounds of macaroni and cheese daily. And every day it sells out. I ask what makes it so good, and she answers, “A lotta love” -- just as Peggy had when I asked about her deviled crab.

I’ll have to go back -- I was having so much fun that I forgot to get a cheese biscuit! Actually, I have to go back for the deviled crab also. And Elise, who works the cash register, says there’s often a line waiting for her to open at 6:30 a.m. So I’m thinking that if it’s that good, then maybe I should jump out of bed and head out for breakfast.

Actually maybe I’ll just contact Armstrong’s Gentlemen’s Club and see if they’ll consider making me an honorary member.