If you want to know what and where to eat, ask Andrea “Andy” Staggs. The executive chef and director of culinary services at Rose Schnitzer Manor Assisted Living has been in the food and restaurant business for 36 years, so she’s always ready for such questions.
“My favorite foods at Rose Schnitzer Manor are the salmon burger, brisket, and mushroom schnitzel,” shares Andy. “I’m always happy when those items are on the menu.
“If we’re going out, my favorite food truck is Sunita’s [on SW 91st Avenue behind the Shell gas station across from Jesuit High School]. If I want Thai, that’s where I go. My favorite restaurant is Acorn and Oak in Camas. They’re absolutely amazing. Besides the fact that they’re located right on the lake with a gorgeous view, I love their concept where you can eat and also buy flower arrangements, or have them delivered to your table. The food is farm to table, organic, with a small menu and seasonal.”
Andy, nicknamed after her grandfather, grew up in Texas, where her father was in the military stationed at various points in San Antonio, Holland, and Austin.
When Andy was 22, she moved to Las Vegas, and spent the next 26 years there as a compliance officer for a gaming company, while studying for her bachelor of science in food science, and associate’s degree in hospitality, at Le Cordon Bleu. Having worked at McDonald’s since she was 16—all the way from drive-thru to grill to store area representative—Andy learned the importance of food consistency and efficiency.
She next took those skills to a high-end Vietnamese French restaurant with meals starting at $200 a person for entrees alone, as a line cook, executive chef, and then director of operations. Later, she led a Hawaiian-Japanese restaurant, and then a Mexican restaurant that won Taco Wars on the Food Channel and other local competitions.
While at the Mexican restaurant, Adolfo “Duke” Valenzuela applied as a server. Andy said the two had a great interview, and Duke was hired, but there weren’t any additional sparks for years until both were out of relationships.
“We’ve been together 10 years now,” said Andy.
“I never thought I would work outside of restaurants, but there is something so much more fulfilling about having the ‘same customers’ all day, every day, versus your regulars that come in a couple of times a week.”
In 2018, Andy and Duke moved to Sanger, California, Duke’s hometown outside of Fresno, to open their own fusion café. A year later, when the building their cafe was in sold, Andy began looking for work elsewhere.
“I came up to Cedar Sinai Park and interviewed twice,” she said. “I was offered the position of dining room manager, we moved here January 6, and I started the job on January 7. And then the pandemic began March 11.” When the executive chef position opened a year later, Andy was selected for the role.
“I love it, even with all the chaos of Covid and staffing crises,” she said. “I never thought I would work outside of restaurants, but there is something so much more fulfilling about having the ‘same customers’ all day, every day, versus your regulars that come in a couple of times a week.
“Getting to know people on a different level makes all the difference.”
The residents here offer a lot of input on food, and Andy joins the Food Committee bi-weekly to listen, and try to implement changes.
“If I were running my own place, it would be my menu, the way I envision it, and if you want to come eat and pay for the food, that’s up to you. But here, it’s the atmosphere of making sure that we’re offering items that the residents truly love, not just feeding my ego, or the cook’s ego, or whatever we want on the menu.
“There’s a little less flexibility, but I like the approach because it gives us a broader area to work with in terms of menu choices, and we try to stay current with the seasons in whatever we’re offering. I think our food is good quality and, obviously, certified kosher.
What’s the most popular resident meal?
“Meatloaf,” said Andy. “And we actually do a five-week rotation, meaning it’s on the menu three times in five weeks because the residents love it that much.
“Outside of comfort foods, fish tacos are always popular, as well as our salads, especially the strawberry spinach goat cheese salad for lunch, and then the Chinese chicken salad at dinner about which the residents rave.”
Andy noted that portion sizes are considered to reduce waste. “We try to make a point of recycling whatever we can, too. So, when we have leftover rice at the end of the meal, it goes straight into the freezer for veggie burgers; we have a whole system to avoid waste.
“Our staff takes seriously the quality of product for the residents, and their relationships with the residents, even from the back of the house. We have residents that come and visit staff to make sure that they are remembered, and to put a face to their orders, so it’s a good relationship between all of them.”
A typical day has Andy running to and from meetings, catching up with residents, checking in with staff, and researching recipes. But she can also be found in the kitchen cooking, or serving residents in the dining room.
“I was awakened at 6:30 on a recent Sunday because there was no cook for breakfast,” said Andy. “I brushed my teeth and threw on some clothes, and came flying in here, with the wrong shoes. I got here a few minutes before seven, and my baker had set up the line for me to save the day. And we were able to open the dining room on time at 7 a.m.
“It was actually a lot of fun, even though it was exhausting and not planned.”
Andy said her favorite part of being executive chef is working with the staff, and on menu development.
“I love creating the menus, whether it’s the weekly menus, or for our special events. I love creating something everyone can enjoy and remember in a positive way.”
Positive is an important word for Andy, who says she learned optimism from her mother, and she tries to keep the atmosphere light and upbeat, empathizing with staff when needed, and remaining understanding. Sixteen-month-old chihuahua Lucy comes to work with Andy every morning, and is a support animal for her team.
When Andy is not working on the weekends, she said Sundays are for chores and food prep at home, and then she and Duke and Lucy take a drive and find a nice restaurant to enjoy.
“I love it here at Cedar Sinai Park,” said Andy. “Being able to provide really great service is the job I’ve been after all along.”