There are many resident-led activities at Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ three retirement living communities in Cabot, the South Hills of Pittsburgh and Sumner (near Akron, OH), and one of the most adventurous is the Dining Destinies group at Concordia at Cabot. The group, which currently has nearly 60 residents on its calling list, is led by residents Barbara Peterson and Mary Simmons and centers around one main idea – trying new food.
“One day about two years ago, I was on a Concordia trip to a local restaurant,” said Barb, who came to Concordia nine years ago from Forest Hills in Pittsburgh. “They had a very interesting menu with lots of different options, but no one around me wanted to try anything new – they were all getting chicken salad sandwiches and Reubens. I tried to talk people at my table into trying something different, but no one seemed interested. So after that I got home, called Mary and said, ‘Mary, we’ve got to do something about this.’ That’s when we first came up with the idea for Dining Destinies.”
Barb and Mary talked to Concordia activities staff about logistics, and it was decided that Concordia would provide a bus as long as they could fill it. Seeing as how there is now a wait list for every Dining Destinies trip, they never had to worry. Barb and Mary also agreed on some ground rules for the group.
“We decided that to be in the group and go for a lunch with us, you had to agree to eat something different – even if it was just a taste,” Barb said. “Spitbacks were allowed.”
The two also wanted to make sure that everyone held up their end of the bargain.
“We have everyone record whatever they eat at the lunch that is new on slips of paper we hand out at the restaurant,” said Mary, who has lived at Concordia for 14 years and recently celebrated her 95th birthday. “Then we go through them later to check on the tasting venture and their reactions.”
To find restaurants for Dining Destinies, Barb and Mary have a simple strategy: plenty of (delicious) research.
“I have a folder full of articles from newspapers and magazines about different restaurants,” Mary said. “People also recommend new places to us, and sometimes we even find places in The Yellow Pages. We really just pick something that looks unusual, then go and test it.”
After a restaurant is vetted and approved, Barb and Mary begin planning their next trip – usually about once every three months, to make sure the experience remains a special treat.
“Mary and I feel like it’s our party when we do this,” Barb said. “So we usually buy a unique appetizer or glass of wine for every table to try; that way everyone can have at least one taste of something new.”
So far, the Dining Destinies group has visited eight different restaurants. Some of their favorite new foods have been lollipop sushi (cucumber sushi on a stick), garlic soup and a super foods dip with fried pita. It’s occasionally difficult for Barb and Mary to find something they themselves have not tried, so they also try new combinations, like trying new sauces on foods they’ve had before. While everyone is open to trying new food, Barb and Mary like to help them along sometimes.
“I got calamari at a restaurant once, and of course I wanted my table to try it,” Barb said. “They asked what it was, and I said, ‘Don’t ask me what it is, just try it.’ I knew that the way this restaurant prepared it was just so good. They tried it and loved it, and when I told them it was squid they were very surprised!”
While trying new food is the idea behind Dining Destinies, Barb and Mary have found that the trips add something special to Concordia, beyond widening residents’ culinary horizons.
“I think Dining Destinies develops your youthful outlook and keeps you open to adventure,” Mary said. “Consequently, it keeps you young.”
“I agree, and I know that when we go on these trips, the bus is always full of buzz,” Barb said. “It’s always exciting. It just adds a degree of specialness and excitement that is above and beyond regular trips or regular activities. It’s a little extra party that makes everybody smile.”
For more information about Concordia’s three beautiful retirement living communities, call Cabot at 724-352-5378, South Hills at 412-278-1300 or Concordia at Sumner in Ohio at 330-664-1289 or visit the retirement living section of our website. And don’t forget to check out some pictures from the last Dining Destinies trip in April to the Breakneck Tavern in Mars, PA below! (Click the thumbnail photo to enlarge.)
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