StoryPoint's public dining room is changing the perception of retirement home food.

Chicken katsu, seared sea bass, Asian-inspired chicken and broccoli. These aren't the gelatinous meatloaf and mashed potato afterthoughts of some retirement home cafeterias. At Grove City's year-old StoryPoint senior living center, elevated food is front and center—a core component of the organization's mission. The corporate-owned operation provides independent living, assisted living and memory care services at 14 senior living facilities across Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky.

Walking into the Grove City center is like entering the lobby of a respectable hotel. A calming and peaceful interior with cushioned furniture and soothing natural light welcomes guests. A baby grand piano waits to be played. Nearby is a coffee counter and entrances to the facility's bistro and dining room, which are open to the public. Menus that are outside the eateries advertise fish tacos, spare ribs and Key lime chiffon napoleon.

On each of my visits, I was greeted by staff and residents who were overwhelmingly kind to a fresh face. On one trip, as I sat eating breakfast, multiple residents stopped by for light conversation. It soon became clear that this wasn't the type of place where you go for a quiet meal alone. At StoryPoint, the food is served with a healthy dose of community.

One night as my dinner partner and I perused the menu, a retiree strolled by to ask if we needed help making a selection. “Any of the fish entrées are incredible,” she said. Pan-fried catfish was soon ordered based on her recommendation. Content, she bid us good night and reached for her walker.

Kyle Roehrenbeck serves as StoryPoint's executive chef. A Central Ohio native, he trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona, and cut his teeth in the kitchens of fine-dining restaurants in Arizona and Columbus before taking the helm of the Grove City dining program.

“Why here?” I asked chef Roehrenbeck by phone, curious about why he gave up cooking for celebrities and politicians at a resort in the Arizona desert in favor of Midwestern senior citizens. He says that after moving back home he was attracted to the continuity and creativity offered at StoryPoint.

He tells me about a resident who visited his dining room nightly at StoryPoint, who loved his cooking, especially his soup. When her health took a turn she moved to the assisted living portion of the facility. Chef Roehrenbeck visited her with a bowl of his homemade soup, which left her grinning from ear to ear. “Food is love,” he says. “To think a simple soup would make someone smile so big, even in their end days, is amazing. There wasn't a dry eye in that room,” he says. “Including mine.”

StoryPoint's dinner menu changes daily, and Roehrenbeck has discovered that incoming baby boomers increasingly expect chef-driven fare (including ingredients such as ahi tuna and wagyu beef) in comparison to the community's Depression-era born clientele. I was curious, however, about StoryPoint's decision to open to the public. “We want to be an active part of Grove City,” Roehrenbeck says. “We don't want seniors to be left out. I think they enjoy having the community come to their home.” He explains how his company aims to change the perception of retirement living. “We are no different than an apartment complex with a great public restaurant,” he says.

Roehrenbeck's recipes are a welcome surprise for a senior living center—if light on the salt. However, it's the strong sense of community at StoryPoint that makes a meal here really worthwhile.

StoryPoint's dining room is open to the public for breakfast (7:30–11 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m.–2 p.m.) and dinner (5–7 p.m.) every day of the year. Reservations are recommended. On most third Sundays of the month, Roehrenbeck prepares a brunch with a “smorgasbord of options,” he says. There are also themed events such as tea times, cocktail hours and prime rib dinners.