One group of employees shows up before sunrise every day to work for Johns Hopkins. They're staffing the kitchen at Keswick Café, serving up an ever-rotating variety of hot meals and salads to hundreds of Hopkins employees Monday to Friday.
Heading this operation at Johns Hopkins at Keswick are Petar Stoykov, chef manager, and Meg Miller, executive chef.
Working for Aramark, one of Johns Hopkins' major food suppliers, the two coordinate bulk food orders, orchestrate daily menus for breakfast and lunch, and oversee the small kitchen team. Stoykov is the eyes and ears on the scene each day, while Miller—who is also executive chef at the Mt. Washington Conference Center on the Johns Hopkins at Mount Washington campus—stops in several times a week.
The Hub recently got the chance to speak with the two chefs and learn more about the ins and outs at Keswick Café, where menus shift by season, all produce is local—and demand for Caesar salad never dies.
What's your background as a chef?
PS: I've been a chef all my life. I grew up in Bulgaria and finished culinary school, and my master's degree in finance, there before my family moved to Maryland 19 years ago. My first job here was with the Macaroni Grill, then the Hunt Valley Marriott. I also worked for the Compass Group as executive chef for York College in Pennsylvania, overseeing 75 employees, and the Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland. But I've been with Aramark now for eight years, and the Keswick Café for the past two.
MM: I've been with Aramark for 14 years, starting as executive chef at the Ravens stadium, and at the Mt. Washington Conference Center for three years. As a teenager, I worked in catering—I always kind of enjoyed catering instead of restaurant work. Then I attended the Baltimore International College [now Stratford University] and completed an externship in Ireland.
What's the daily schedule like at Keswick Café?
PS: Prep work starts at 6 a.m., then we serve our breakfast from 7 to 9. There's usually a steady crowd for that. We have an hour break before lunch starts at 11:30 a.m., and our peak time is usually noon to about 1:30. After 2 p.m. we're doing cleanup. On a typical day, I'm usually here from about 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
What's the staff like?
PS: In addition to me, we have a deli person who preps in the back in the morning; a grill cook; our lead cook, Angie, who prepares soups and entrees; a salad person; two dishwashers; a cashier; and a backup.
MM: My role is reviewing menus and ordering with Petar. My presence here changes weekly, based off my schedule at Mt. Washington.
How do you prepare your menus?
PS: Aramark supplies us with playbooks for summer, fall, winter, and spring. Each contains about 40 to 50 specials, and we can choose what we think the customers will like.
We operate on a three-week cycle. I come up with the menu and send it to Meg. My employees will come and say, "They like it, they don't like it." We try to listen to the customer as much as possible.
MM: Everything's trial and error. For example, we tried for a while to do Meatless Mondays, a Hopkins initiative, which did well for a bit but then kind of faded out. So now on Mondays we do serve meat, but all of our featured specials are vegetarian.
Where does the food come from?
PS: We try to get all local produce, coming from Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Then we have a local bread supplier, H&S Bakery. Sysco is our main supplier, and they're here three times a week. Keany Produce & Gourmet supplies our produce, and they can be here every day if we need it.
MM: Under Sysco, we're working with certain approved vendors. For example, all our chicken is Tyson's, and baked goods are Otis Spunkmeyer.
What are the most popular dishes here?
PS: Definitely chicken Caesar salad, which we do once a week, every Thursday. We have a good crowd for the made-to-order pizza. Pretty much all of the daily specials in our "action stations" get good crowds as well.
What dishes take the most prep time?
PS: Turkey or beef chili.
How many customers typically stream through the cafe each day?
PS: It depends on the day. On a busy day, probably 350 or more. Summertime, it's a little slower, more like 200 to 220. Every day is different; sometimes a lot of people are working from home.
MM: If there are trainings or other events like that at Keswick, we might see as many as 400 to 500 people that day.
What happens with the uneaten food?
MM: We do our best to utilize any remaining food we have that's fresh. And at our action stations, there are made-to-order items, so we don't have as much waste.
PS: A company called Waste Management comes in and collects leftovers, which they turn into compost.
What would happen here, for example, on a snow day?
MM: It all depends on when the snow happens, and what Johns Hopkins decides. You kind of have to wait. In the meantime, we can prepare coffee and hot cereals for breakfast.
Do you feel competition from restaurants at the neighboring Rotunda?
PS: Yes, we are competing, and we do our best. Believe it or not, our prices are below theirs. That kind of gives us an edge.
Do you do a lot of cooking personally, outside of work, and what are your favorite dishes?
PS: Yes, I do. My favorite is veal marsala.
MM: My husband cooks a lot at home, but I do cook when I have the time. I don't have a favorite dish, but I do love Italian.
Who taught you how to cook?
MM: One chef from the beginning of my career, with Aramark, really influenced a lot of what I do today.
PS: My mom.