What’s Cookin’, Chef Jeff?

featured image of jeff groezinger

Jeff Groezinger, Director of Dining Services, dishes on dining at Sunnyside Manor.

Ever wonder what it’s like behind the scenes in the dining room? From brunches to cocktail hours, dining is a highlight at Sunnyside Manor, and there is a lot to tell! We sat down with Jeff Groezinger, Director of Dining Services at Sunnyside Manor, to get the full scoop on what’s cooking at Sunnyside Manor.

This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
image of Jeff Groezinger

How did you start working at Sunnyside Manor?

I came here when we first opened [the current community in Wall] five years ago. Before that, I was in business for myself. I had my own deli and gourmet food store. I sold both and went to work for an Erickson community.

From there I moved on to [other national chains], as a regional director. It was a lot of traveling. I had two older children and a young son who was in school and plays lacrosse and became very good at it. I wanted to watch him play!

I met with the Keanes when they were building this new community and they hired me. It has been wonderful! It is family owned and there is such a difference, you can’t imagine.

What is the biggest difference for you between a family-owned senior living community, versus a chain?

Of course, everybody cares about the residents, corporate or not. That’s why we’re in this profession. But, corporate is a lot more about the budget. At Sunnyside Manor, our budget is… I’m not going to say it’s unlimited because it’s not, but if residents want lobster tail, I can order lobster tail. We serve steak, lamb chops, and shrimp five times a month. There is a lot more freedom here.

How did you become interested in working with seniors?

Not to sound too corny or cliché, but I always promised my grandmother I would take care of her. She lived in Florida and started to develop dementia. So, I brought her up to my house, where she stayed as my two older children were growing up. About a year into her stay, she suffered a stroke. [My family] took care of her until she passed. That was my first experience caring for a senior.

What is the biggest challenge in your job?

The challenge always is to keep everybody happy. You have to remember everybody cooked differently. So, one resident will say the vegetables are too mushy, and another one will say they are too firm. You have to find a proper balance.

What have been your favorite events to coordinate?

I really enjoy the summer barbecues. We’ve had over 400 people. We also have two Christmas parties, between assisted living and skilled nursing.

Since we didn’t have large events during [the pandemic], we started having special birthday dinners – whatever [residents] want. Some people want surf and turf and some people want hotdogs! It’s wonderful and the residents love it.

We like to introduce new things, and we also do a lot of happy hours. I make up a mixed drink, like a Grasshopper or a Pink Lady, something from their time.

We have after dinner drinks every Wednesday, and Bloody Mary Mondays with a good snack. Of course, we also have Virgin Marys and mocktails for the many people in our community who do not drink alcohol. It’s a great event and it gets everybody out.

What are the dining events like in the memory care and skilled nursing neighborhoods?

We have the same food events in each neighborhood. We just do a mocktail or sparkling cider instead of alcohol.

You mentioned that that you also like to introduce new things in the dining room. What have you introduced?

We’ve introduced cultural foods residents may not have ever had, like Indian food. We have different types of vegetables and curries. It’s been a huge hit. During the Jewish holidays, we introduced gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup, and we always have a traditional Seder meal during [Passover].

We also made sushi (but we had to use cooked shrimp). That was new to a lot of our community.

It’s wonderful, because when you come here, you get to have new experiences and make new friends. We encourage people to come out to all our events. Food is a big part of socializing.

What has been the biggest challenge that you faced at Sunnyside Manor?

The pandemic was the biggest challenge. We had to change everything on a dime, and we had to do that a lot of times. That was a huge challenge for the staff.

What changes and ideas from the pandemic will you take with you, in addition to those birthday dinners?

Our room service is fantastic. We had a lot of experience making it even better. There are always some residents that prefer to have meals in their rooms.

One of the positives is enjoying life now. I remember the first day we re-opened the dining room to have lunch. Everyone was so happy. It was just amazing.

What is most rewarding about working in senior living for you?

The smiles on residents’ faces are the best reward here. The birthday dinners again are a great example. We always give them a special rainbow cake and birthday balloons, and we take pictures of them. It’s really over the top now and it’s just fantastic!

You know what else is wonderful, too? When they ask me for something and I can give it to them – that is a great feeling.

What inspires you professionally?

There is a misconception that [senior living] food is not good food. Putting out a really good product is extremely important to us. We have great chefs here who come from nice restaurants. They really like being here and not working restaurant hours.

And, all of our menus are resident driven. We even have items named for residents. The egg salad is “John Clark’s Famous Egg Salad.” Another resident, Vera, gave me a recipe for clam chowder. Now every time we have clam chowder, it’s “Vera’s Manhattan Clam Chowder.” They love seeing their names on the menus.

What are you excited about? What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to resuming the barbecue and the Christmas parties. We are also planning a staff get together to show our appreciation for the great job everyone did over the past year and a half.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

My kids all live within five miles of me. I enjoy the family and children. My son’s lacrosse season just ended – he had a great run. I also enjoy going to the city, going out, music, and going to the gym. Things are good!

Is there anything else you would like to share about Sunnyside Manor?

I’ve seen hundreds of assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care communities. Sunnyside Manor is without a doubt, the best: the best food, the best staff. This is a great place to work. The owners are fantastic.

If there is one thing I could pass on to people wondering about [Sunnyside Manor] for a loved one, I’d say don’t wait too long! Some people are a little apprehensive because it is a big life change. But after being alone, they come here and they start to socialize and meet people that have the same interests, and they realize that it is a wonderful place to be. They have a much better quality of life.

Thanks to Jeff Groezinger for taking the time to talk to us about his experience.

Learn More About Why Families Rely On Sunnyside Manor

When it is time to make decisions about senior living, we are here to help. Sunnyside Manor offers assisted living, memory support, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Learn more about Sunnyside Manor’s resources for caregivers. Whether you’re looking for short-term support or a longer-term plan, begin with our “Getting Started” guide. Please call us at 888-696-2052 to speak with a senior living expert.

Sunnyside Manor, located in Wall NJ, is the area’s premier senior living community. It features three distinctive neighborhoods: Independence ‘Plus’ Assisted Living, Recollections Memory Care and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.

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