Hospital chef sets out to build a business from scratch

Robert Gebelhoff
Journal Sentinel
 
When Justin Johnson was hired in 2012 to help revamp the Watertown hospital cafeteria to emphasize scratch food and sustainable operations, he was skeptical whether the concept would work.
 
Now, Johnson is starting his own company, which aims to do the same thing: use less processed food and increase revenue.
 
"I discovered it was a lot easier than I thought," he said. "A lot of times, the roadblocks were imagined or easy to overcome. There's a lot you can do for a little."
 
Johnson's work can include changing menus and recipes, overhauling kitchen systems to be more efficient, training staff — even installing garden space for businesses to make their own produce. His start-up, called Sustainable Kitchens, will specialize in helping health care kitchens.
 
It also underscores a wider trend in the food industry for healthier, more natural meals.
 
Gretchen Mead, executive director of the Victory Garden Initiative and a member of the Milwaukee Food Council, said she's seen a growing interest among food services in the area to use food from scratch, with a handful of commercial kitchens grabbing produce from their backyards and at farmers markets.
 
"People are realizing it's the way of the future," Mead said. "They are seeing how foods are affecting their health. There's almost a sense of conspiracy, like 'What did they put in my food?'"