How to Tackle Kitchen Renovations

By | April 25th, 2018

With food and beverage in the spotlight, clubs are investing in back-of-house upgrades. Here are three examples.

Club kitchens house the heart and soul of every food-and-beverage operation. It’s where the food is prepared and where the staff that prepares it works its magic. But often, especially in older clubhouses, the layout of the kitchen leaves much to be desired.

“A lot of chefs in the club world inherit a kitchen designed by someone who wasn’t a chef,” says Ryan Foo, CEC, Executive Chef/Director of Culinary Operations at Upper Montclair Country Club (UMCC) in Clifton, N.J. “We do the best we can.”

Indeed, club chefs are masters at finding savvy workarounds in inefficient kitchens. They make food-and-beverage operations succeed, despite the challenges of the physical space.

And the more successful they are, the easier it is to pull back the curtain and show how they’re achieving good results despite a dysfunctional kitchen layout. When they do, they get swift buy-in for upgrades and renovations.

“Having a well-designed kitchen can improve the operation in a lot of ways that directly impact the members,” says Foo. “It can improve ticket times, lower staff stress and inspire more creativity.”

Upgrades not only optimize performance and efficiency, but can also increase member usage and satisfaction. Here are three chefs’ accounts of the kitchen renovations they oversaw at their clubs.

Case study: Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, N.J.

  • No. of Members: 730
  • Annual F&B Revenue: $3.7 million
  • Renovation Budget: $1.4 million
  • Completed: 2013 & 2018/2019

Until Foo was brought on in 2011, UMCC had cycled through a number of chefs in a short period of time.

“The kitchen needed a renovation, as it had caused a lot of problems for F&B, but they didn’t have anyone strong enough to lead them through that process,” says Foo. “When I came in, it was under the premise that I would become that person.”

He began by cataloging everything in the kitchen. He watched how the staff moved through the space. He analyzed membership growth, and met with manufacturers to design a better kitchen.

The footprint of UMCC’s kitchen was small, though, and the existing equipment didn’t make the most of every square inch. Instead of replacing it, however, Foo began looking into custom pieces.

“By going custom, we were able to use space that we couldn’t before,” he explains. “We were also able to create an island with all of the things we wanted—a plancha, a grill, a charbroiler, a pasta cooker, a wok, and a double pass-through salamander with an overhead shelf [see photo, pg. 9].”

UMCC divided its renovation project into three phases over three years. The goal of stage one—which cost $350,000—was to improve the a la carte kitchen, lower ticket times, and allow for more diversity on the menu.

Stage two—which cost $200,000—focused on elevating the banquet kitchen and instituting a dry-aged beef program. Stage three—which cost $160,000—updated kitchen technology. (A blast chiller, a Pacojet, immersion circulators and a raw-bar setup were also purchased as part of stage three.)

Each phase made an immediate impact. The 2013 kitchen renovation transformed UMCC’s ability to serve its members and drove usage. The latest phases added to that momentum and F&B revenue is now on track to more than double since 2013. (In 2017, UMCC did $3.7 million, and the club is projecting $4.5 million in 2019.)

“F&B has exploded,” says Foo—and the proven payoffs from the previous renovation, he adds, have led to the membership approving investment in yet another project, this time including improvements for the front of the house.

“We’re separating our a la carte and banquet spaces and putting a lounge space as a buffer room between the two,” Foo says in describing the upgrade, which will begin in April.

But the back of the house will gain more benefits as well. The kitchen will expand and envelop an old bar that will be transformed into a dedicated chef’s table room. It will seat up to twelve and be available for two seatings on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as by request.

A dedicated ten-by-ten, temperature-controlled garde manger room and a new island will also be added in the kitchen. A number of equipment pieces—including a wood-fired grill, planchas and some infared burners—are also part of the plan.

The budget for this renovation is $740,000. “Our continued goal is to make the kitchen even more efficient,” says Foo.

Case study: The Clubs at Houston Oaks, Hockley, Texas

  • No. of Members: 440
  • Annual F&B Revenue: $3 million
  • Renovation Budget: $960,000
  • Completed: 2016

The Clubs at Houston Oaks is a unique, 1,000-acre family resort 35 miles northwest of Houston in Hockley, Texas. It boasts a grand amenity center, a resort-style pool, a farm-to-table restaurant, a championship golf course and a bevy of other amenities.

On the property, there’s a three-acre garden, an aquaponics greenhouse, an aviary and a bee farm (C&RB’s Chef to Chef will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the club’s culinary operation in the October 2018 issue.)

Executive Chef Jeffrey Baker, who has been with the club for four years, oversees all aspects of the culinary operation, which serves seven dining locations. He played a critical role in the main kitchen renovation, which was completed in 2016.

“Like most, I inherited a kitchen designed by someone who never worked in a kitchen,” says Baker. “I’m a left-to-right kind of guy—sauté, grill, fire and bulk prep—so when we started the renovation process I flipped it and did everything I could to improve the space, except stretch the walls.”

The renovation, which cost $60,000, took 30 days to complete and allowed Baker to reconfigure the space, to better suit fine dining. The emphasis was on improving execution without spending unnecessary dollars.

“When you’re designing a kitchen, you first need to consider your menu,” says Baker. “For example, we had a $30,000 smoker on the line because the original designer thought this would be a steakhouse. It’s not, and that piece of equipment was used a couple times a month. It was taking up prime real estate.”

Baker relocated the smoker to the back dock and added a six-top burner, two lower convection ovens, a smaller, more proficient grill, a flat-top, two fryers and a low-boy freezer.

“The kitchen is much more efficient now,” says Baker, who will soon add an additional kitchen to his operation when Houston Oaks opens a new dining and wine-storage venue called Bunker 55°. The cost of that kitchen construction is about $900,000.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis in the ‘60s, Tenneco, the original owner of the club, built an extensive underground bunker facility from which it maintained and monitored the company’s global gas operations. Still intact, part of the bunker now serves as a hotel for members.

The underground portion, though, is currently being renovated into a wine cave that will house 160,000 bottles, a private dining room, meeting spaces, and a lounge area. As part of the project, a brand new kitchen is being built.

“The kitchen in the Bunker will be a game-changer,” says Baker, who plans to move most of his bulk-prep, canning and preserving tasks there. “That kitchen will [not only] serve the Bunker, [but] as a commissary for our entire operation.”

Case study: Evansville Country Club, Evansville, Ind.

  • No. of Members: 720
  • Annual F&B Revenue: $1.5 million
  • Renovation Budget: $1.3 million
  • Completed: 2018

After two especially successful years in F&B, Evansville (Ind.) Country Club (ECC) decided it was time to reinvest in both its banquet and a la carte kitchens, which hadn’t been renovated since the 1960s.

“We started by asking the members what they wanted in a dining operation,” says Executive Chef Kyle Kellogg. “We learned they wanted more casual, family-friendly dining, as well as a better member bar.”

Kellogg, who has been with ECC for three years, partnered with a local architect, and the duo hammered out a plan for both of the club’s kitchens. Both were gutted (see photo, pg. 8) and rebuilt to include new hood systems, equipment, floors, wall covers, ceilings, and more.

“The banquet kitchen is now specifically designed for banquets with a combi-oven, a hot box and new steam tables,” says Kellogg.

The main kitchen was also reconfigured, so the pickup window is now closer to the dining room. New deep fryers, stoves, combi-ovens, freezers and tables were also added.

“Communication is what made this renovation a success,” says Kellogg, who ran banquets out of the a la carte kitchen, and vice versa, during the various stages of the project.

“Our membership is really supportive of food and beverage, and the improvements will help us take the program to a new level,” Kellogg says.

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