PORTLAND – Elizabeth Boynton said she feels a lot better these days about going to the Clocktower Cafe, a takeout lunch spot in the basement of City Hall.

Boynton said the cafe’s revamped menu, which features not only leaner and healthier food but also information on the number of calories in the sandwiches, soups and other food, helps her make better choices about her midday meal.

“It’s made me more calorie-conscious. It’s definitely made me more aware about what I’m eating,” said Boynton, a city lawyer.

“There are a lot of things that are much better for you and they still taste very good,” she said after ordering a cup of eggplant soup, her favorite.

The city ditched the mac-and-cheese and beef stew last fall, using a small part of a federal anti-obesity grant to improve the healthiness of the food offered at City Hall’s own eating spot.

The city has tinkered with the menu since reopening the cafe after a renovation last fall, said Doug Gardner, director of Portland’s Health and Human Services Department, but is now largely done with the turn in a healthier direction.


“This really was an evolution,” Gardner said.

He said city officials decided to look in their own backyard after receiving the $1.8 million public health grant last March.

“We had this resource, and I couldn’t very well walk into the cafe downstairs and continue to serve the items we were serving,” Gardner said. “We want to make those healthy choices easy choices …”

Most of the money from the grant has gone into improving biking and walking opportunities in Portland, such as more bike racks to encourage residents to leave the car home and pedal to work, said Bethany Sanborn of the city’s Public Health Division. A small part has gone into a program that allows non-chain restaurants in the city to use up to $1,500 each to have their food analyzed for nutritional value and then reprint menus to include information on the number of calories and percentage of fat in each item.

The Clocktower Cafe’s new menu was analyzed under that program, Sanborn said.

Gardner said he recognized that the menu was a touchy item for some employees.


“Food can be an emotional issue,” he said, so even though the city made some decisions quickly — such as removing all sugar-sweetened drinks — others were based on feedback and notes left in a suggestion box.

For instance, items like turkey and grilled chicken were added to the new salad bar because people said they like to top off a salad with them, Gardner said. Customers also said they wanted soup and a few more hot meals, so choices like the taco salad came back, albeit with ground turkey instead of the fattier ground beef.

And pizza will make a return when a new oven arrives, but the crust will be whole wheat and the cheese low-fat, he said.

Not everyone is on board with the new approach. “I don’t go for the yogurt and all that stuff,” said Dwight Gailey, who works in the city’s Housing and Urban Development department and opted for a ham salad sandwich for a recent lunch.

Other city workers have grumbled that they miss the mac-and-cheese or that the taco salad isn’t as good, but Molly Casto, a Planning Department employee, said she was happy with the salads and other choices she now has for lunch.

“It’s totally different,” she said of the cafe. “It was a lot of heavy stuff. I think things are now fresher and healthier.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.