Stan Cooley could always cook. Ever since he was a little kid in his mother’s kitchen learning how to make her legendary biscuits, Stan knew he would always have a passion for making great food.
For the past 24 years, Stan has been preparing food for residents of Glenaire just about every day. And for him, what was true in his mom’s kitchen is still true now. “She used to say the first ingredient is a little love,” explains Stan.
Although he started at Glenaire as a line cook, Stan has spent the last 10 years or so as the Assistant Director of Food Services. With a staff of 40 and as many as 1,000 meals to prepare on any given day, Stan and his dedicated team keep Glenaire well fed and running smoothly.
Stan estimates that his staff prepares more than 25,000 meals every month.
However, Stan always makes time to walk around and talk with the residents. “The residents here are more like family,” says Stan. “They know me very well. I’m always kidding around with them… but I get along with them very well.”
The job can be a challenge, though, as dietary restrictions and nutritional needs can vary greatly from one resident to the next. But it’s a challenge that Stan loves to take on. “Our goal is to make the food as consistent as possible, but also change it up, you know,” explains Stan. “You’ve got to mix it up. No one wants to see the same thing on their plate all the time.”
Whether he’s bringing residents something new, like moussaka with Greek salad and homemade baklava, or lining up a resident favorite, like his bang-bang shrimp with fried rice, Stan makes sure the dining experience is as fresh, flavorful and enjoyable as possible.
“We’re always trying to do some great things for them… and I think they are well-pleased,” says Stan. “Glenaire has been a great place for me and my family. It gives me joy to put a smile on (the residents’) faces… knowing I can be a help to someone… to give back.”
Before coming to Glenaire, Stan was the head chef for Piccadilly Cafeterias in Florida for 12 years where he upheld the chain’s reputation for preparing everything they served from scratch. After moving to North Carolina, he was working as a cook at North Carolina State University where during one summer break, he came to Glenaire to help out over the summer. It didn’t take long for Sam Stone, Glenaire’s original executive director, to notice Stan’s skill in the kitchen and to convince Stan to stay on full time.
It was also Sam Stone’s idea to send him to the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York for a course that allowed Stan to take his career further at Glenaire. “He saw something in me,” says Stan. “And I took his advice.”
Now Stan is preparing for his next challenge at Glenaire — an eight-month kitchen renovation that will allow the community to expand food services and incorporate more restaurant-style cooking stations. The updates will not only allow them to accommodate more residents; but will enable more made-to-order food preparation capabilities and increase their ability to address specific dietary needs.
The project is set to kick off in February of next year. But residents don’t have to worry. Stan is planning for every possibility in order to keep the food at its usual high quality. A feat, Stan says, that has a lot to do with his staff.
“Really, I’ve got a great staff and we’ll keep things as close to what we’re doing now as possible,” Stan explains. “Some staff has been with me 18 or 20 years. Even the kids… I get a lot of joy in seeing the kids that come in here in their first jobs. We’re one big happy family…”