Since she was a child, Waniece Usher has been in the kitchen. Born and raised in Detroit, Mich., she got her passion for cooking from her mother.
"I really liked helping my mom with Sunday dinners," Usher recalls, and with six younger siblings, there were plenty of mouths to feed.
Discovering that she could turn her love of cooking into a career was a dream come true. "I would watch cooking shows and think, 'It would be so cool to do that.' When I found out I could get a degree in it, that's what I did," she says.
Now, as the new director of dining services at Avery Point, an Erickson Senior Living community opening in October in Short Pump, Va., Usher looks forward to sharing her culinary creativity and family recipes with residents.
Becoming a chef
Wanting to stay close to home, Usher earned an associate of arts degree in culinary arts and hospitality from Macomb Community College. After graduating, she worked at an independent catering company for two years.
Soon after, Usher earned a certification as an executive pastry chef. "Once I did that - with the experience I had on top of it - I officially gained the title of 'chef,'" says Usher. "A lot of it is based on experience. The more knowledge and skill you have, the higher you can climb. Being called a 'chef' is part of the rite of passage into the culinary world."
Following her certification, she worked in restaurants as both a chef and a pastry chef. Usher then worked as a chef at a rehabilitation facility, which led to the opportunity to become a culinary instructor for a trade school. During that time, she taught classes about baking, pastries, healthy cooking, and culinary fundamentals.
A career with Erickson
In 2017, she received a call from a recruiter about a dining supervisor position that was opening at Fox Run, the Erickson Senior Living community located in Novi, Mich.
She accepted the offer, eager to participate in the community's Signature Dining program, which focuses on serving cooked-to-order meals that are healthy and nutritious, crafted with the freshest ingredients from local vendors.
Drawn to the high-quality continuous care offered by Erickson Senior Living, Usher then accepted a position as general manager of continuing care at Highland Springs, another Erickson community located in Dallas, Tex.
But the kitchen kept calling her name. In 2019, she moved to Virginia to become the assistant dining director at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson community located in Ashburn. Now - just a hop, skip, and a jump away - she's got the job of her dreams at Avery Point.
Starting from scratch
Usher is thrilled about the opportunity to develop Avery Point's dining program from scratch.
"I get to see everything that goes on behind the scenes - from working with vendors to establishing a menu. This is really different from going into a community that's been established for a while," she explains. "I also get to build relationships with residents and staff who are in the same position that I am - it's going to be new for everyone. That's exciting for me!"
Providing residents with an elevated dining experience - but also something that they are comfortable with - is Usher's priority.
"Residents are looking for something different - a more social environment. I hope to provide just that," says Usher. "And we want residents to feel like they have a say in what they're getting, as these restaurants are part of their greater home at Avery Point."
Soliciting resident input
Part of accomplishing this vision is getting feedback. Usher has already attended some focus groups, giving her an inside look at what cuisine soon-to-be residents would appreciate. "Ultimately, I want to provide what they want and are used to having. So, comfort food, but elevated," she notes. "I take their feedback seriously."
As a result of her keen listening and dedication, Usher is creating it all - a welcoming atmosphere, friendly customer service, and tasty menus.
With all her years of culinary experience, Usher says the most important thing she's learned is patience. "You can make a lot of positive change if you take time to process. That's what helps deliver a better experience. At the end of the day, it's the residents whom we're here for."
Usher says that Mexican food is her favorite to eat, but donuts and cinnamon rolls are her favorite items to bake. In addition, she loves trying different restaurants, wine tasting, oil painting, and traveling.
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