BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Representing U.S. Army Europe and Africa, the Knight’s Lair Warrior Restaurant in Baumholder is preparing to compete in the upcoming Department of the Army 56th Annual Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Food Service Competition scheduled for early next year. And it all starts with their Thanksgiving meal celebration.
“Our Thanksgiving meal is different than all our other meals,” said Staff Sgt. Jinhui Zhu, the Knight’s Lair manager. “Thanksgiving is an Army culinary specialist’s Super Bowl.”
“We’re OCONUS [outside continental U.S.], and a lot of our Soldiers here in Baumholder are new to the Army. For many of them, this will be their first Thanksgiving away from home,” said Zhu, who is assigned to the 55th Quartermaster Company, Europe’s first field feeding company.
No stranger to being one the best, a 55th QM Company warrior restaurant placed second in the Army-level Connelly competition in 2022 in the garrison category. And in 2021, another one of the 55th QM Company’s warrior restaurants was selected as the best in Europe. Zhu said he and his team at Knight’s Lair plan on taking home the first-place, Army-level Connelly award in the garrison category this year.
Terry Allen is the installation food advisor for U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz. He said he believes the 55th QM Company can win it all this year for three reasons – the team, the facility and the program.
The warrior restaurant team at the Knight’s Lair is unique in the fact that it is made up of local national employees and Army civilians from Logistics Readiness Center Rheinland-Pfalz, contractors, and Soldiers from the 55th QM Company, 95th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade.
“It’s a great combination that’s proven itself successful. Between the Army culinary specialists, the LRC Rheinland-Pfalz dining facility attendants and the contractors – there’s a ton of experience and expertise in that facility. Everyone works very well together, and food service operations there run extremely smooth. And most importantly to the Soldiers and the community members they serve – the food is extremely nutritious and delicious,” said Allen, who is assigned to LRC Rheinland-Pfalz, 405th Army Field Support Brigade.
Less than six months ago the Knight’s Lair celebrated its grand reopening. Touted as one of the most modern warrior restaurants in the Army, even U.S. Army Materiel Command’s deputy commanding general, Lt. Gen. Christopher Mohan, was noted as saying it’s one of the best in the Army and a great example of doing it right.
The first of its kind, the warrior restaurant represents a significant milestone in the Army Food Service Modernization Plan. The Army Food Service Modernization Plan is a comprehensive initiative that seeks to improve the quality, variety and availability of food at Army warrior restaurants across the globe.
The Knight’s Lair offers a specialized menu that provides Baumholder Soldiers and community members with high-quality, nutritious meals while meeting their dietary needs and preferences. In addition – and maybe equally important – the Knight’s Lair doesn’t look like the dining facilities of old.
“It’s completely renovated, top to bottom. It’s like a sports bar type of environment and atmosphere, and it’s really nice,” said Allen, who worked in several dining facilities during his 21 years as an active-duty Army cook and visits many more in his current role as an Army civilian installation food advisor.
It has a modern feel to it, Zhu added. The old dining facilities were always beige in color with military photos and recruiting posters hanging from the walls. The Knight’s Lair has modern LED mood lighting, it has all new furniture and a contemporary dining area design, and it’s much different than all the other warrior restaurants in the Army. It’s more in line with what someone would expect from a high-quality hometown restaurant in a nice neighborhood, he said.
Zhu manages the Knight’s Lair warrior restaurant, and Allen manages the program. The 55th QM Company is responsible for five warrior restaurants in four Army communities. There are two restaurants in Baumholder, two restaurants in the Kaiserslautern Military Community and one in Wiesbaden. The Knight’s Lair is their showcase warrior restaurant and the one many Soldiers say is the best.
The food tastes really good, but it also helps that the Knight’s Lair is so much nicer than the other dining facilities, said Sgt. Charles Morrison from the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion in Baumholder. The Knight’s Lair has so many more options.
The LRC Rheinland-Pfalz installation food program Allen manages includes the Knight’s Lair and a second warrior restaurant in Baumholder, two warrior restaurants in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, and the dining facility at the U.S. Army Regional Correctional Facility-Europe in Sembach.
Allen and his team at the LRC Rheinland-Pfalz food program management office visit each of the restaurants at least once or twice a week. They also conduct facility inspections and food inspections, keep track of all the accounts and budgetary requirements, and order new kitchen equipment and dining room furniture as needed. Allen is also involved in organizing all the special meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he assists the warrior restaurant managers in the USAG Rheinland-Pfalz area with preparing for the Connelly competition.
Zhu said he and his team at the Knight’s Lair are looking forward to presenting an amazing meal and atmosphere at the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration. The meal is scheduled for Nov. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Knight’s Lair Warrior Restaurant on Smith Barracks in Baumholder. And Zhu and his team are equally excited about the upcoming Connelly competition. They have a lot on their shoulders – representing all of U.S. Army Europe and Africa – but they’re confident they’ll come out on top, and Allen agrees.
“If we win, it’ll be the third one that we’ve won since I’ve been doing this job,” Allen said. “With this team and this facility and this program, I have no doubt that we will win.”