Carmine's to create healthy menu at cancer center

KENNEWICK -- Carmine's Italian Restaurant is partnering with the Tri-Cities Cancer Center to create a new eatery featuring health-conscious foods for patients, as well as a tasty lunch spot for those on the go.

The new restaurant, to be called Carmine's Express, is set to open Feb. 1. It will serve from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tom Cothran, executive director of the Kennewick-based cancer center, said staff members got the idea of starting such a business from watching patients who spend a good part of the day at the center undergoing treatment.

"We saw people getting things out of the vending machines," Cothran said. "We saw people bringing in things from fast-food restaurants.

"These folks are already sick," he continued. "We thought, 'Why don't we have somebody come in and do healthy food as an alternative?' "

About the same time, a cancer center volunteer who also is a friend of Michele Roth, daughter of the owners of Kennewick-based Carmine's, told Roth about the opportunity.

"The timing just was great," said Roth, who has done everything from dishwashing to organizing wine dinners at the restaurant owned by her parents, Carmine and Joyce Aitoro.

Roth had taken about six months off from helping out at the restaurant to spend time with her son, who was a high school senior at the time.

Just before the cancer center space came open, she had been considering starting a lunch service at Carmine's Italian Restaurant, which is only open for dinner.

But when Cothran called her about the cancer center idea, she jumped at it.

"I'm excited about doing the Carmine's aspect ... and also providing a service that would benefit the patients of the cancer center," Roth said.

Patient-centered food will revolve around lighter fare for those who might not have much of an appetite or who might have conditions that would make eating bigger meals a challenge.

Such offerings will range from smoothies and protein shakes to fresh fruit and salads to Italian ices and Jell-O.

Heartier choices will include Carmine's favorites, such as meatball soup and pasta bowls. Roth also plans to offer lighter fare for those on the go, such as snack plates of fruit, cheese, olive tapenade or hummus.

Prices will range from about $3.50 for a cup of soup to $7 or $8 for a pasta bowl.

Roth thinks the center also could fill another niche for many of the employees who work nearby at the American Red Cross, United Way, KGH Medical Mall and other employers.

"If they can't sit down in a restaurant, there's not a lot of choices for healthy food," a gap that Carmine's Express hopes to fill, Roth said.

Diners can eat inside at a few bistro tables near the eatery or take their meals to go.

For now, Roth and her husband, Steve Roth, and her sister-in-law Bunny Aitoro will run the restaurant.

Roth said she is excited to be part of what goes on at the cancer center, which she learned about in part by attending the center's annual fundraising breakfast.

She said the she was impressed with the care the center offers patients, "and the caring." Patients may gather information at the center's library or get help picking out wigs, hats or prosthesis through the center's support services office.

On average, 47 patients undergo radiation therapy each weekday at the outpatient facility, Cothran said.

The center also offers educational classes and free cancer screenings.

"It's really about those things," Roth said of her new business venture at the cancer center. "We can be a part of that and help with all the good they do."

Carmine's Express will be near the cancer center's Smith entrance off West Deschutes Avenue. The center is at 7350 W. Deschutes Ave.

The restaurant will accept calls for take-out orders. Its phone number will be 509-737-3431.