Tasty New Options Are on the Table

Posted December 14, 2007 at 6:16pm

After months of anticipation (and a week of dwindling rations in House cafeterias), Restaurant Associates officially takes over as the new vendor for House food service operations today.

RA has promised to offer gourmet-quality meals, often prepared from scratch and made from local and sustainable food. A new ready-made food service also will premiere, allowing staffers to grab lunch on the go, along with the new Quick Pay card, which lets staffers pay for their lunch without cash — and credits 10 percent of any purchase back to the card.

Plus, staffers needing to shed a few pounds after the holidays can track their intake with the vendor’s healthy dining program, which will highlight meals and offer monthly visits with a nutritionist.

The House Administration Committee announced in August that the New York-based food service provider would take over from Guest Services Inc., the local company that previously oversaw House cafeterias. Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard is in charge of overseeing the transition and has used it as an opportunity to spruce up the cafeterias themselves.

RA is expected to bring an entirely new feel to House cafeterias, and although RA takes over today, many cafes will remain closed this week, including the Rayburn Cafe.

Once they reopen, many will be remodeled, and most will feature recycling centers that include receptacles for organic waste. Compostable disposable containers, utensils and cups will replace styrofoam, tying the changeover into the House’s Green the Capitol Initiative.

Quick Pay cards also premiere today, replacing the Debitek system that allowed staff to pay for their meals without cash. There are no sign-up or usage fees for the card, and staffers can sign up for the card at First Call+, located in the Longworth House Office Building.

Overall, menu prices are expected to stay the same, although they could be adjusted based on portion sizes, ingredients and preparation styles and other factors, according to CAO officials.

But the willingness to provide a variety of portions, ingredients and preparation styles is considered one of the top reasons that RA was brought in to run House cafeterias, officials said. Menus are expected to be diverse, and chefs are expected to add new dishes throughout the year.

Menu highlights in the Rayburn cafeteria include a la plancha, a grilling of premium organic chicken, grass-fed beef and wild salmon. The Chef’s Corner will rotate a variety of food, including pasta, stir-fry, Caesar salad and seafood, and a self-serve breakfast bar will be offered for those wanting to grab an early bite.

In the nearby Rayburn Deli, a variety of Mediterranean flatbreads and pressed sandwiches will be served, alongside hot dogs and sausages, salad and frozen yogurt.

A new salad bar will be featured in the Longworth cafeteria, and new food stations will offer international and specialty salads. Sushi also will be available twice a week. The Cannon Cafe will launch a new sub sandwich program, featuring a choice of four cold and two hot subs.

The Capitol Market will feature a variety of American regional picks, and a speciality station will rotate a variety of foods, from barbecue to sushi to Italian dishes.

Two entirely new food options will premiere. The Creamery will replace Scoops in the Longworth Building and feature Gifford’s Ice Cream, a locally based company that features seasonal items. The Creamery also will serve hot desserts, smoothies and locally made candies. The Longworth Convenience Store will get a complete makeover and a new name: Goodie’s. Healthier snacks and new flooring, shelves and fixtures will be featured once Goodie’s opens next year, officials said.

All hourly union associates who wanted to continue working in House cafeterias were offered positions with RA, and most took jobs, according to officials. But some employees decided to leave the House, including Ben Solomon, who ran the Longworth Convenience Store.

A native of Ethiopia, Solomon came to the United States in 1982 and studied engineering at the University of the District of Columbia and the University of Maryland. He spent about 20 years working in guest services for the chamber, eventually serving as store manager of the Longworth store.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) paid tribute to Solomon on the House floor on Thursday.

“For the residents of Longworth, Mr. Solomon was the quiet, unassuming friend who greeted us when we made a pit-stop to the store for an afternoon snack to get us through the rest of the day,” Meek said. “One of his employees said it best, when she said that Mr. Solomon will truly be remembered as ‘A person who gets along with everyone.’”