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Manna Restaurant has all the trappings of a buzzy hot spot: a locally sourced menu that changes with the seasons, an open kitchen, and dishes sporting spins on classics such as cilantro lime wings doused in black garlic and a jalapeño pickle pizza with fresh dill. The catch? The eatery is located inside Centura Castle Rock Adventist Hospital. “Oftentimes in hospital cafeterias, you see patients’ family members come down and look around at the stations, and they don’t know what to do or where to go,” says Adam Freisem, who was tapped to open the eatery with fellow chef Dan Skay in 2013. “That’s why we wanted to have a [true] restaurant. We wanted to be a place where people could get away from the clinical environment, sit down, and be taken care of.” The pair delivered, and the community responded: In fact, 90 percent of Manna’s diners now come from outside the hospital, even though it doesn’t have a liquor license. Prices are lower than those at area fast-casual restaurants ($4 to $16 for small plates and entrées), and there’s a heightened focus on nourishment through whole foods. In advance of the eatery’s 10th anniversary, we sat down with Freisem to discuss what makes the restaurant destination-worthy.
5280: How is Manna different from other restaurants in Colorado?
Adam Freisem: Mostly our location. I can’t tell you how many times I get phone calls from people saying, I keep plugging you into the GPS, and it drops me off at the parking lot of the hospital. The fact that we’re a nonprofit also makes us really unique. We’re not here for any other reason than to be a service to the community. We’re not here to turn a profit.
What obstacles does the unusual environment create?
One of the challenges we have is running a restaurant as well as patient room service. We operate hotel-style room service as opposed to the typical bulk cooking seen in a lot of hospitals. Our patients are our top priority, so adding the operations of the restaurant on top of it is always a balancing act.
You rotate your dishes regularly, but what items won’t your customers let you take off the menu?
The Fatted Calf is a half-pound, certified Angus burger we get from [Denver’s] Lombardi Meats. We top it with caramelized onions, arugula, garlic aïoli, and a Port-Salut cheese. It’s a basic burger, but the cheese is melty like a raclette [dish] and has just a hint of funk. We also have a pizza called the Diamond Ridge. We do a fig jam on the base, with some beef prosciutto, and then we top it with Gorgonzola, mozzarella, and Parmesan. When it comes out of the oven, we give it a balsamic glaze.
How do you plan to keep Manna going for another decade?
Inflation and the cost of food have gotten insane. Our next menu will be more veggie-centric. You can treat a lot of veggies like a protein; I’ve done a cabbage steak dish before. We partner with Farm Box Foods in Sedalia and get these blue oyster mushrooms from them. Mushrooms are a beautiful substitute for meat products. You can treat them exactly like you would a steak. You can braise them, you can grill them, you can fry them. There’s definitely a demand for more plant-based meals, but from a restaurant perspective, it’s also more cost-effective.