Smithfield-Sioux Center expands cafeteria

Smithfield-Sioux Center plant manager Nathan Frens chats with a couple employees while they eat lunch in the plant’s new cafeteria, which opened this month. Frens said the expansion enhances plant safety during the coronavirus pandemic and helps modernize the facility.

SIOUX CENTER—Smithfield-Sioux Center wrapped up a $1.3 million expansion to support employee safety.

The project created a new 3,6000-square-foot cafeteria complete with stainless steel tables and seating for 70 to the west of the facility as well as a new enclosed entrance hallway.

“I’m quite proud that Smithfield was willing to do this project,” said Smithfield-Sioux Center plant manager Nathan Frens. “It shows how much our company values our employees by providing more space and aiding employee safety during this coronavirus pandemic.”

The expanded spaces allowed employees to maintain social distancing regulations set in place by the CDC and stay out of N’West Iowa’s weather elements.

Smithfield-Sioux Center employs about 470 people between its three shifts, all of which utilized a 1,500-square-foot space filled with plastic round tables for their lunchroom.

When the coronavirus pandemic reached the area in March, dividers were installed and a tent was put up outside to help give employees proper spacing. Tables were upgraded to stainless steel as well for durability and cleanability.

“We kept this improvement even after moving back inside because we can use more industrial sanitizers on it without damaging the tables,” Frens said, noting he’s excited to have this project wrap up before Iowa winter truly sets in. “The tent was part of rapid action to flatten the curve but having an upgrade to our welfare space like this is good because it not only allows our employees to get out of the elements, having an interior, temperature regulated, food safe environment that we can control is exceptionally important for our employee health and for the wholesomeness of our product.”

Frens said employees who had to go in and out of the previous cafeteria had extra sanitation requirements for their shoes for food safety regulations.

“Now we’re not going in and out of the plant, so that helps our sanitary conditions,” he said.

Lines also formed outside as employees were required to have their temperatures taken before entering the facility.

“Many of our employees worried about their safety,” Frens said. “The new cafeteria space and hallway allow our employees to maintain that 6-foot distance while eating or coming into the building.”

Frens said the expansion does more than aid employee safety.

“It’s exciting because, for our growing plant, it provides an updated area for our employees. They have more access to vending options and, coming soon, a bank of 12 microwaves to heat up their lunch. And they can all do that without being so compressed.”

Frens said the plant had expansions in 2003 and 2006, both of which were in the production area. The plant’s previous cafeteria space with tan walls and brown tile floor dated back to the 1970s.

The new open concept cafeteria with light tan flooring, white walls and plenty of windows reflects the natural light.

“It modernized the whole space and that’s really an upgrade for everybody,” Frens said.

Knowing the cafeteria would take away some of its existing parking lot, Smithfield engineers turned the space north of the facility that had grass and some mature trees into new parking.

Frens said the redesign created 18 more parking spaces than the cafeteria expansion took away.

“That makes this project even more of a bonus,” he said.

Construction began the first week of September and was approved for use by they city of Sioux Center on Oct. 30.

A few finishing touches are yet to come, including six televisions on the walls as well as an additional stainless steel storage area for employees to store their lunches.

The new cafeteria spaces frees up the plant’s former break room area, which Frens hopes to convert into office space.

“We have some awesome staff who are working in some tight spaces,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to give them the space they deserve.”