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Meet Bill Furnas, Award-Winning Executive Chef and Regional Director of Dining Services for Carillon Assisted Living

Were it not for a paperwork miscue, Bill Furnas might never have owned nearly a dozen restaurants, earned a nutrition degree, and overseen menu preparation for all 21 Carillon Assisted Living facilities. Thank goodness for human error.

As a young Army draftee, Furnas expected an assignment related to his work experience in a machine shop. However, instead of a 74-B-20 (materials handler), a clerk classified him as 94-B-20 (cook). So, he saw action in the Vietnam War as a combat mess sergeant.

“I’ve been doing that the rest of my life,” Bill says of his career in food services. “I’m almost positive it was a clerical error. You couldn’t make that stretch without that hook on the seven.”

Furnas, who earned his nutrition science degree from Central Western University near Dallas, got his initiation in food preparation at a convenience store. There, fresh doughnuts put a smile on everyone’s face. By the time he reached the Army, so did the hot cinnamon rolls he supplied to soldiers in the activity room.

After his discharge, Bill went into business, creating and owning 11 restaurants in Texas and North Carolina. One of the most popular: The Great American Feed Store in Dallas. Its lunch-only menu of Army-style food—like meat and potatoes, yeast rolls, and peach cobbler—packed the place.

Other favorites over the years included smothered steak, barbecued chicken, fried potatoes and onions, and chili dogs, served up at Wild Bill’s in Dallas as “The Pistol.”

Ultimately, Furnas spent 25 years in retail and 12 in hospital patient feeding. For 16 years (the past five at Carillon) he has been involved in senior dining operations.

Not only does he get to use his expertise, residents enjoy the benefits of his experience. The shrimp salad served periodically at Carillon won an award in 1983. Another honor came from Premier Incorporated, one of the nation’s largest group purchasing organizations. Premier presented him its Illuminating Excellence Award in 2013 because of residents’ dining satisfaction scores and other accomplishments.

Later, he removed his nameplate from the trophy and inserted one with the name of the facility receiving the highest satisfaction scores that quarter. Currently on display in Asheboro, the traveling trophy helps with local marketing efforts.

“Nutrition is important,” Furnas says. “I think that’s comforting to families, to know somebody is looking out for their loved ones’ nutrition and food preparation.”

Chief Operations Officer Bob Goyette says Furnas brings a flair to Carillon’s menus and recipes because he understands the “wow” factor of food preparation (Bob’s personal favorite is the fried chicken).

“I can’t say enough good things about Bill,” Goyette says. “His work ethic is second to none. He takes so much pride and ownership in everything he does. He is truly a ‘servant leader.’”

This leadership is a prime reason Carillon creates recipes and menus based on residents’ needs and preferences, Goyette adds. That’s important because meal times are an important part of quality of life. The dining experience directly relates to residents’ satisfaction, and peace of mind for their families.

Like Furnas, all of Carillon’s dining service directors have a ServSafe certification from the National Restaurant Association. Generally good for five years, it signifies a mastery of standards on food safety, such as handling food properly and serving it within certain time frames.

Even though senior dining operations are much different than restaurants, Bill says his background has proved quite useful in his position.

“The neat thing is our most successful people came from the retail world,” Furnas says. “They know how to respond to customers and aren’t afraid to visit with residents. That’s how they made their money.”

A father of three children and grandfather of three, Furnas credits family for his distinguished career. His wife, Tammy, is the senior patient services manager for one of North Carolina’s largest hospitals; they met as co-managers of a restaurant. December will mark their 21st anniversary.

“It’s all about passion that you have for different things,” Furnas reflects. “Everyone has different passions. Back in the day, I was always bouncing ideas off my kids. When I opened the Hanger Cafe (in a small airport), my wife was in the loop with me planning for that. My family’s been very supportive.”

Posted in Sage Stories on August 8, 2017

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