Coast-to-Coast: Two NPS Concessioners Proactively Implement Healthy and Sustainable Cuisine

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On June 5 the National Park Service (NPS) launched its Healthy and Sustainable Food Program (HSFP) on the National Mall in Washington, DC with the release of standards and guidelines for front-country concession operations. Four of its largest concessioners provided food demonstrations at the event highlighting what visitors can expect to see in parks under the new program. Two concessioners, Evelyn Hill Inc., which operates snack bars at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; and Ortega Family Enterprises, which operates a cafe at Muir Woods, were not able to make the event. However, this is no reflection of their commitment to the Program. In fact, their operations on both sides of the country are already leaders in providing healthy food alternatives for NPS visitors.

Evelyn Hill

Evelyn Hill is a third generation operator of food and beverage facilities at the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor. At the Crown Cafe and Ellis Cafe, Evelyn Hill has revised its menu in order to make everyday foods healthier. Some examples of Evelyn Hill's healthier meals include Junior Ranger Meals, which are available to both children and adults and include baked chips and apple slices instead of french fries. The new hotdog is a smoked turkey dog, and the hamburger bun is 100 percent whole wheat. The black angus cheeseburger was reduced from a 1/3-pound burger to a 1/4-pound burger. The cafes are also offering 300-calorie meal options and are promoting less sugary beverage alternatives. In addition to all these changes, Evelyn Hill is working to educate visitors in a variety of ways. Calorie counts are printed on all the menu boards, and nutritional information is posted at the entrances to the cafes. Also, signage is located throughout the operations to promote healthy choices and to explain the efforts made by the concessioner.

What has all this effort yielded? Amazingly, Evelyn Hill has cut 126,000,000 calories; 7,600,000 grams of fat; and 51,000,000 milligrams of sodium from their menus on an annual basis. About the HSFP launch, Bradford Hill, President of Evelyn Hill who operates at Fort McHenry as well as the Statue, said, "We made everyday foods that people expect to find at a Park healthier and just as tasty! We care what our visitors eat and are proud to be a leader in support of healthy and sustainable food in parks."

Muir Woods Cafe

Three thousand miles away, the Muir Woods Cafe operated by the Muir Woods Trading Company, a subsidiary of Ortega Family Enterprises, is another leader for the NPS HSFP. Several years ago, the Muir Woods contract established new standards to provide visitors with food and beverage offerings consistent with the values of Muir Woods and the organic agricultural history of Marin County. The park aimed to integrate local, organic and sustainable foods into park menus, and Muir Woods now boasts a high representation of healthy, organic, and sustainable food selections. Muir Woods Trading Company stepped up to that challenge and surpassed Park expectations, making the Muir Cafe a healthy and sustainable food destination, a serious accomplishment given the food quality in the San Francisco area!

The Muir Woods Cafe provides an array of food offerings that appeal to a wide range of dietary lifestyles and preferences and was even recently featured on the Food Network as a "hidden treasure." A number of the menu items meet the low calorie, sodium and fat criteria of the HSFP, and most of the menu items take advantage of the cafe's location to provide locally sourced and organic choices. For the young visitors, there are sustainable hotdogs and organic cheese sandwiches; vegetarians can enjoy vegetable Panini sandwiches and quesadillas; and vegans will find soup and fruit pastries. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are a large factor in the cafe's menus, from fresh summer peaches to fall pumpkins. The favorite from many reviews is the cafe's signature grilled cheese and tomato soup. Visitors to the cafe are provided a variety of educational materials about the food being served from simple nutritional data to information on the local farms the cafe uses and how these efforts support the local economy.

"We knew," said Armand Ortega, "that in offering a totally new menu of healthier, sustainable foods, we would be providing better quality, product and value to our customers, the park visitors. What was a very pleasant surprise was that our gross food sales went up over seventy percent. Clearly people are aware and ready for better, healthier culinary choices." Ortega Family Enterprises also operates at Hawaii Volcanos, Carlsbad Caverns, Death Valley, Bandelier, White Sands, and Gateway and has expanded its values at Muir Woods to these locations as well.

Evelyn Hill and Ortega Family Enterprises are just two great examples of concessioners coast to coast that are already providing great healthy and sustainable food in parks. As the HSFP continues to be rolled out, more concession food and beverage operators, from snack bars to fine dining restaurants, will have stories to tell about how they are providing more food choices to our visitors. For more information on the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Muir Woods check out the National Park Service web site.