By Kim West
ATHENS — With a new moniker and improved customer flow, the Athens-Limestone Hospital cafeteria has officially reopened as Market Street Café for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The hospital administration and Limestone County Chamber of Commerce officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new cafeteria and the recently remodeled gift shop Wednesday afternoon.
“We renovated the cafeteria because of the flow,” said Kelli Powers, chief executive officer of Athens-Limestone Hospital. “Nurses would come on their 30-minute breaks, get in line and they would still be in line before their break was over. The new cafeteria is a very open space with a very open flow … I’ve already heard it’s much better for the staff that can’t leave the building. They have to eat here and get only 30 minutes for break.”
Decreasing wait time
The ground-floor cafeteria underwent an $800,000 renovation beginning Aug.13, and food operations were moved temporarily to the education department of the 51-year-old hospital.
The project was partially funded through donations, including a $125,000 gift from the Ladies Auxiliary, and the hospital’s capital-improvement fund.
“The reason it cost so much is we had to replace pipes under the cafeteria floor and replace an air handler for the air-conditioning unit because anytime you cook, you have to have proper ventilation,” Powers said. “And we had to dig up the entire floor in the kitchen.”
The café, which formerly was set up with a long, closed-in buffet serving line, had about 250 customers for breakfast and lunch service Tuesday. The menu remains unchanged, but wait time has been shortened and customers have the option to weigh salads and sandwiches before they are priced during checkout.
Gift shop makeover
The hospital also closed the popular second-floor gift shop for several weeks for a redesign and cosmetic uplift, including new flooring and a new coat of paint.
It reopened earlier this month.
The refurbishment was fully funded by a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, which provides volunteers to staff the gift shop. Doris “Dot” French of Athens made the donation in memory of her husband, Lifford Easley French.
Lifford, who was described as “a true Southern gentleman” during the gift shop ribbon-cutting ceremony, was 90 years old when he died in June 2011.
He was Limestone County’s most highly decorated World War II veteran. As a staff sergeant assigned to 8th Air Force, 381st Bomb Group, he earned the nation’s second-highest award for heroism, the Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.
The next major venture is upgrading patient rooms on the second and third floors. Each room will be freshly painted and equipped with new furniture, beds and mattresses.
The price tag for refurbishing the rooms is $780,000, and the hospital is offsetting the cost by selling room sponsorships for $15,000 apiece.
“Beds are very expensive,” Powers said. “We’re currently trying to get generous donors to sponsor rooms, and they can donate in the memory of someone or sponsor a room themselves.
In the past two years, the hospital has undertaken several capital-improvement projects, including revamping the emergency room, Baby Place and Waddell Center and installing a sprinkler system and a pair of nuclear cameras.
Powers, who has been at the helm for nearly three years, said the hospital is undergoing several phases of renovations to improve conditions for both employees and patients.
“The reason is for the comfort of the patients and our employees,” Powers said.
The hospital is going to upgrade the parking area, retool the restrooms and admission area and construct an outpatient facility in the coming months.
“We’re going to build a professional office building across the street and move some of our outpatient services out of the hospital,” she said.
Hours of operation
Market Street Café is open Monday through Friday for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Lunch is available Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The gift shop is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Weekend hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.