Providing great food as part of a great guest experience helps the East Lake culinary team focus on the club’s mission to give back to the community through the East Lake Foundation and other charitable organizations.
East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., and my club, Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., have the immortal golfer Bobby Jones, cofounder of the Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, in common. Bobby Jones grew up with East Lake in his backyard and played his ﬁrst and last rounds of golf there. Jones won the ﬁnal leg of the Grand Slam at Merion in 1930, and then retired from competitive golf.
East Lake fell on hard times as the 20th century came to a close and was purchased by Atlanta construction giant and philanthropist Tom Cousins in 1993. The East Lake Foundation was formed to revitalize the community around the club, as well as the golf course, and East Lake GC has since become a regular stop on the PGA TOUR, hosting the TOUR Championship that decides the FedExCup every year.
In 2014, Chef Nick Barrington was hired to leave his second-in-command position at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando, Fla., and come to East Lake to head the club’s culinary operation. We would like to thank Chef Nick for taking the time to talk to us about some of the initiatives he has undertaken at East Lake.
C&RB: Chef, you worked for Arnold Palmer for 20 years and were recruited by Tom Cousins for East Lake through Mr. Palmer. Both of these men are legends in their respective ﬁelds and known almost as well for their philanthropy. How does the leadership of these respected men trickle down to staff and membership?
Barrington: As you said, both of these men are legends for accomplishing great things, and the greatest of these is giving back. While at Bay Hill Country Club each day, we felt and experienced Mr. Palmer’s philosophy of giving back with guests and staﬀ , which carried over to all who worked for him. We wanted to give each guest the best experience possible and represent Mr. Palmer in the best manner possible. And at East Lake Golf Club, each day we strive to uphold the mindset of giving back. Whether it’s an employee helping to create a memorable experience for a guest, or a member hosting a charitable event with us, we strive to honor the past while creating a future that Mr. Chicken Cousins would be proud of.
C&RB: Your kitchen at East Lake has become something of a center for chef training and mentoring in the Atlanta area. And you send members of your team to stage while your club prepares for the TOUR Championship. Who comes to the East Lake kitchen from other clubs and restaurants, and what do your chefs typically say when they return from a stage experience?
Barrington: The club-chef community is strong and has a great history of helping each other. When I arrived at East Lake Golf Club, I recognized the talent in my team members and encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunities to extend their knowledge and skills in the club and culinary industries. I have sent multiple chefs to assist in multiple culinary events at clubs and charitable functions as well. While we are closed each year in July, I also encourage stages at local restaurants, to widen their culinary skills and vision. When they return after working long hours and in different, unfamiliar kitchens, they are energized. I believe it’s like going to the gym and working out—it’s tough, but you feel energized afterwards.
C&RB: You require all members of your kitchen staff to have an organized plan for their professional development, and you communicate to them that your stake in this is to see that they reach their goals. Why do you see this as important?
Barrington: I have been very lucky to know it’s important to have a good support system and mentors in anyone’s path to becoming a great leader/chef. I have had both in my life—an amazing wife of 26 years, and mentors like Arnold Palmer, Chef Russell Scott and Chef Charles Carroll. These people have shown me a path to success, and I do what I can to help pass this on to each of my team members.
While conducting one-on-ones twice a year with my staff, it’s important to me that each team member knows that both East Lake Golf Club, and myself personally, are interested in seeing them grow professionally, So yes, I ask them to create, with my assistance, an organized plan for their career. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a member of our team succeed in reaching their goals for the future. We must help those under us grow and become leaders of tomorrow.
C&RB: You’ve developed a 5-, 10- and 20-year growth plan for your club. What factors did you use to calculate what the future of F&B at East Lake looks like?
Barrington: When coming to East Lake Golf Club, I realized that the club is steeped in history and should be strengthened, to allow that history to go on for decades of golf fans and members to enjoy. I also recognized the club motto, “Golf with A Purpose,” and was driven to create a similar culinary motto, “Food with A Purpose,” which helps our culinary team to focus on their ultimate goal of supporting the goal of giving back.When creating a 5-10-20 year plan for growth, I used providing a great guest experience as a driving force, followed closely by the ability to increase offerings to guests and members, which increase sales and ultimately increase our ability to give back to the East Lake Foundation and other charitable organizations. As we grow, our ability to give back grows as well. This motivates me every day. It’s what Arnie would do.