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Bon Appétit: Here Are All The Complaints To Kentucky's Capitol Cafeteria

Patrick Fitzgerald

It was a question that holiday meal lovers everywhere could appreciate.

Would the main course be “REAL turkey, (not just ‘turkey roll’)?

That’s what Ellen Raine of the state Legislative Research Commission wanted to know before buying Thanksgiving dinner at the Capitol Annex cafeteria in Frankfort last year. So she fired off an email to the manager.

His response: “We only do real turkeys.”

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting wondered what kind of complaints, questions and compliments the state capitol cafeteria received. Under the Open Records Act, we obtained all of them over a six-year period.

Below, in full, unredacted glory, are the comments from legislative staffers and others.

In 2014, then-Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson cried foul over the consistency and cost of his cafeteria smoothie. Abramson said it had been “a little too yogurty for my taste and the price was a little high.”

The chef asked for another chance. It was, after all, his first day on the job. The records don’t say whether he got it.

“I said I’d give it another try and I did,” Abramson, now an executive in residence at Bellarmine University, said with a chuckle this week. “They got better.”

In 2010, when the staff had to substitute pork chops after running out of a popular stuffed pork loin dish, five people complained. Money was returned.

Overall, most of the feedback was benign. Some was complimentary. But in May 2011, cafeteria patrons were up in arms when the state Department of Parks-run facility scaled back its menu in an effort to be more efficient and cost-effective.

Among the responses:

  • The food was awful. I had a sausage biscuit that I wouldn’t even feed to my dog.
  • Thanks for your recent decision to turn our cafeteria meal options into sad, pathetic, overpriced gas station food. I will now be able to save some money by bringing something from home.
  • Salad bar greens look at least a day old, and sandwiches are soggy.

Officials reacted quickly. The reduced menu was abandoned. More locally grown food was added to the offerings. Order was restored. Complaints subsided.

Ellen Raine ended up getting the turkey last year. “It was wonderful,” she recalled this week. She went back again this year.

Just days ago, Doug Simpson, the cafeteria’s food service operations manager, slow-roasted eight turkeys.

For that, Raine and countless other capitol staffers give thanks.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.

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