Mount Rushmore National Memorial awes visitors with its mammoth granite carvings of four U.S. presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt — in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
Naturally, many of the 46,000 annual visitors take a break from viewing the sculpture to refresh with food and beverages. Since May the renovated Carvers' Marketplace, which itself resides in a historic building, offers a fresh take on national park fare.
The goals of this renovation project include extending farm-to-table practices, serving healthy food and offering a fresh-forward concept, says Lloyd Shelton, food and beverage manager for Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Mount Rushmore. Xanterra, a park concessions management company based in Greenwood Village, Colo., has a 10-year history with Mount Rushmore. "We use a hierarchy of purchasing. When possible we buy local organic, then locally sourced, then organic," he says.
"The direction was to put a fresh spin on old menu ideas to entice customers to partake in the food and beverage options," Shelton says. "We also had to consider the operation in terms of labor accessibility. We have a lot of business during the peak season from May to October, but our part-time labor force, who are mostly students, head back to school before the season ends."
A Fresh Spin
Before the renovation, customers entered the building through one entrance and funneled through one long cafeteria-style service line. "People didn't know all the different menu offerings they could get until they walked past them on the line," Shelton says. Customers also had to stand in line for quite a while to even reach the front.
"Improving traffic flow was one of the most important aspects of the renovation project," says Michael Miles, FCSI, principal, H-C Design and Consulting, based in Bozeman, Mont.
Customers arriving at the concessions building first see Hoist House Grill and the Lunch Pail kiosk. The kiosk offers grab-and-go foods such as cold sandwiches, hamburgers, buffalo burgers, beef hot dogs, buffalo dogs, chips and bottled beverages.
Customers continuing into the building can then enter Carvers' Marketplace through two entrances. To the side of the main food court, an ice cream area features five varieties and soft serve in the summer. One popular option is the locally manufactured Thomas Jefferson vanilla, made from the former president's original recipe circa 1780. "While utilizing a mix of existing equipment, we enhanced the offering by adding additional soft-serve machines and dipping cabinets," Miles adds.
Another popular new concept, Rushmore Roasters, offers coffee drinks from fully automated espresso machines, bottles of South Dakota wine, muffins, bagels, biscotti and cold sandwiches in display cases. A dedicated case holds fudge.
The dining room comes into view just prior to the service stations. With the false ceilings and walls now gone, the dining room offers breathtaking views of Mount Rushmore through the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows.
Customers can investigate the selection of menu items and their sourcing at two touch-screen walls. "We're working on a 6- to 10-minute film about our local growers and ranchers and how they provide food for us," Shelton says.
The design team opted to simplify the menu in order to speed service and maintain high-quality food selections. "We took away many of the multiple choices, so we offer entrees with sides rather than offering them separately," Shelton says. "If you order pot roast, for example, you'll receive a vegetable, mashed potatoes and a roll. We'll substitute sides upon request. Also, sandwiches are prepared with meat and cheese, and we'll customize it to the guests' desires."
Another speed of service change is that desserts and cashier stations now exist at each concept-themed station. "We doubled the number of cashiers to provide quicker, more efficient service," Shelton says. The old cafe contained two cashiers at the end of the long serving line.
At Black Hills Harvest, customers' menu choices include soups, buffalo chili, made-to-order sandwiches, prepackaged sandwiches and salads to go. Display cases hold sandwiches and salads; hot wells hold soups and chilis.
Two beverage stations offer cold and hot drinks. The beverage program is an all-you-care-to-drink program with one fee for the day; customers may switch from hot to cold beverages throughout the day. "The park offers a dramatic, emotionally touching evening lighting ceremony, so people often buy a drink in the morning, and when they come back at night to watch the ceremony, we give them a new cup for whatever beverage they want," Shelton says.
Dakota Kitchen contains an order and pickup system. Customers approach the cash register to place orders. Video screens with photos of the station's menu items — buffalo stew, New England pot roast, baked tilapia, vegetarian eggrolls, chicken strips and lemon pepper chicken — help customers make their dining choices. Staff work behind the cashier's station to prepare menu items using a flattop griddle, a convection oven, steamers, cook-and-hold ovens and a six-burner range. "Before a person completes a credit card transaction, we have the food to them," Shelton says.
Memorial Grill contains a high-speed oven, a broiler for burgers and two high-speed pizza ovens. Heated drawer units hold burgers. A hot display unit with a sloping shelf displays beef burgers, buffalo burgers, beef hot dogs, buffalo dogs and pizza. Staff present hand-wrapped chili dogs to customers directly. "Before the renovation, customers had to request all their menu items from staff, which slowed service considerably," Shelton says. Gluten-free buns are available in addition to regular buns. At this station, customers can see staff using the broiler, fryer and pizza oven to prepare menu items.
Staff prepare food for the stations, kiosk and trailer, as well as for catered events in the back-of-the-house kitchen, which fits in a 20-foot by 80-foot footprint. The main change here was to replace the old baking oven with a rotating rack oven.
Food and supply deliveries arrive at a loading dock on the basement level. After staff check in the food items, they store them in two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer and dry storage. Staff transport food and paper products upstairs and place them in a paper room, storage room, two walk-in coolers and two walk-in freezers. "We keep a two-day supply upstairs," Shelton says.
For vegetable prep, staff use a slicer, chopper and deep sink. "Local farmers deliver produce to us that is clean and ready to be sliced or chopped," Shelton says.
Staff use one of the two cook-and-hold ovens to prepare a locally sourced buffalo brisket and heat menu items such as prime rib for banquets. Staff heat tilapia and lemon pepper chicken and bake rolls, pies and signature cookies in a convection oven. They use six steamers to heat vegetables and potatoes, and reconstitute buffalo stew from a quick-chill state. Two tilt kettles heat soups and chili made from scratch. Blast chillers allow staff to quickly chill large batches of menu items before reheating in steamers.
"Relocating existing hoods in this grand block and concrete structure was a coordination challenge," Miles says. "We arranged the hoods in the existing pizza and grill stations to focus customers on the freshly prepared pizzas. Utilizing existing equipment was an important component in keeping the project within budget."
Staff transport pans of prepared food to the front-of-the-house stations and place them in a hot-holding cabinet and into steam wells as necessary. "We're continually refreshing the wells so food is always fresh and doesn't sit long," Shelton says.
High-end banquet events require staff to use the hot-and-hold ovens to prepare roast sirloin and other premium menu items. "Catering of about 300 events during the off-season allows us to employ staff members full time," Shelton says. For banquet service, staff remove the standard tables and replace them with eight-foot rounds positioned in front of a stage. "The dining room has to be able to turn quickly into banquet space," he says.
The entire operation also must be scalable for peak and slow seasons. "We created dual-purpose systems so in the winter we can operate with two areas inside and none outside," Shelton says. "We'll close off the grill and Harvest with curtains but serve many of the same items out of Dakota Kitchen. Ice cream will be served in Rushmore Roasters Coffee area." For banquets, the coffee area becomes a bar. Mobile steam wells behind the serving counters can also move to service areas or double for plating needs.
Throughout the project design, sustainability remained a primary focus. An on-site sustainability manager monitors and evaluates product usage to ensure the operation is as environmentally friendly as possible.
"Before the remodel, about 52 percent of our purchases were for locally sourced or sustainable foods," Shelton says. "We're increasing that to 60 percent."
The staff composts vegetables, operates a public garden and grows vegetables in Keystone, a tourist town located about five miles from the monument. Keystone also contains Xanterra's employee housing and a large warehouse. Garden produce often supports menu items served in the employee dining area, located in Mount Rushmore's concession building.
"We've proposed putting in a greenhouse on the roof above the gift shop near Carvers' Marketplace," Shelton says. "We're hoping for this in 2018 if the Park Service approves this."
The staff serve food on multicolored melamine china. "We're washing a lot of dishes every day in a flight-type machine," Shelton says "We're doing this for environmental concerns. It's better to wash a dish than to send paper or plastic to a landfill or a compost site." Serviceware containing nickel is washed and reused. "Dishwashing flows from beginning to end with a constant flow," says Miles.
The operation also uses post-recycled napkins and corn-made cold cups and serviceware. Low-flow toilets and heated dipper wells, rather than water wells, help reduce water consumption.
For greater energy savings, Shelton's team is retrofitting the dining room with LED lights and daylight sensor controls. "We use mostly ambient lighting because of the huge windows, but the installation of an HVAC system with a heat exchanger will also reduce the building's environmental energy load," he says. Xanterra has also requested the Park Service's approval for the use of solar panels for some of the building's spaces.
Shelton's advice to others operating such a high-volume operation is to hire experienced chefs. "Our executive chef, Tom Dusing, keeps meticulous records of what we serve," he says. "Our ordering is on target, and we rarely don't receive all the products we need." Another touch Dusing brings is his sensitivity to the needs of customers who don't speak English. For instance, the entree menu board at Dakota Kitchen includes Chinese translations of menu items.
As visitors continue to come to Mount Rushmore, they will now learn even more about American history through the food offerings and information about local farmers. No doubt the foodservice operation contributes to keeping this national treasure alive for generations to enjoy.
Facts of Note:
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial Attendance: Can be as high as 46,000 customers in one day during peak season from May through October; at slow periods, 200 per day
- Carvers’ Marketplace Opened: May 2017
- Supporting Carvers’ Marketplace: An outdoor kiosk and trailer on the patio
- Scope of Project: A remodel of the servery, ice cream operation and dining room
- Size: 8,450 sq. feet for servery and kitchen; dining area, 5,472 sq. ft.; ice cream area, 1,482 sq. ft.; coffee area, 120 sq. ft.; lower level storage and prep, 6,500 sq. ft. (not part of renovation)
- Seats: 300 inside with 150 on the patio
- Transactions: Can be as high as 10,000 per day; average of 800 guests per hour and holidays as high as 1,200 guests
- Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day during peak season from May through October; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. October through April, except Christmas
- Menu Specialties: Locally produced and interpretive food such as bison, wojapi (Native American berry sauce), ice cream and comfort foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs and pot roast
- Food and Beverage Staff: 120, including 13 full-time employees and seasonal staff
- Total Project Cost: $3 million, including the gift shop and parking facility
- Equipment Investment: $800,000 (of the $3 million)
- Website: http://www.mtrushmorenationalmemorial.com
- Owner: The National Park Service
- Superintendent, Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Cheryl Schreier
- Vice President, Xanterra Parks & Resorts: Tim Schoonover
- Director of Project Management, Xanterra Parks & Resorts: Bill Sherwood
- General Manager, Xanterra at Mount Rushmore: Marty LaMontagne
- Food and Beverage Manager, Xanterra at Mount Rushmore: Lloyd Shelton
- Executive Chef: Tom Dusing
- Prospectus and Initial Concept: Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio
- Architect: FourFront Design, Rapid City, S.D., and Denver; Joel Simonyak
- Interior Design: FourFront Design, Amanda Williams
- Foodservice Consultant: H-C Design and Consulting, Bozeman, Mont.; Michael Miles, FCSI, principal
- Equipment Dealer: TriMark Gill Group, Hamilton, Mont.
- Construction/General Contractor: RCS Construction; Bob Scull, Owner; Bob Conway, project manager