Strategic kitchen redesigns have helped club and resort chefs make optimal use of existing space and even totally rebrand their restaurants.
Last spring, the kitchen at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant at L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, La. embarked on a total redesign to support its transformation from a buffet to full-service dining spot. The new Drago’s opened at the end of August.
Hot-hold wells in the back of the house were removed and service windows installed to make the transition to plated foods, says Kevin McCarthy, L’Auberge’s Executive Chef. Multiple fryers, char broilers, a large flattop, Turbo Chef ovens, a sauté station for pastas and seafood dishes, and heat lamps were added.
The restaurant already had ample walk-in refrigerators and freezers for deliveries and storage. Making space in the former buffet kitchen for hot- and cold-food-plating-worktable stations was the biggest design challenge, McCarthy points out.
“By keeping the stations as tight as possible, we were able to make the most out of the existing space,” he notes.
McCarthy is also developing a take-out meals program for the restaurant. These meals will be produced and packaged in the back kitchen, which is already decked out for this purpose.
In addition to McCarthy, the restaurant owner and the resort’s food-and-beverage and facilities team took part in the kitchen redesign.
In 2018, Rockaway Hunting Club in Lawrence, N.Y., totally stripped down its 800-sq.-ft. kitchen as part of a $1.5 million renovation, states Executive Chef Matthew DeCarolis. The more than 100-year-old building was so distressed that the old kitchen floor was rotted out and falling through to the basement, making the installation of steel beams across the floor a priority.
An old dish return area was replaced with a new walk-in refrigerator, wait station and a space that can be used for plating parties with drop-down heat lamps and tables that roll into place.
By taking down a wall in a formerly separate room that was used for prep, better flow for dropping off dirty dishes was achieved. To make room for 20 feet of prep tables for regular and bulk food preparation, sinks and cooking equipment, and a walk-in refrigerator that was located behind the hot line was relocated.
Out back of the kitchen, next to the loading dock was a garage. By raising the floor and installing that walk-in refrigerator and a walk-in freezer, the garage became the perfect place for storage.
“Now it’s only five feet from the delivery doors to the walk-ins,” DeCarolis said.
Even as the club’s restaurant business grew, the kitchen was hampered by limited space, particularly with a staircase in the middle that could not be moved. While space is still tight and “the staircase still gets in the way sometimes,” DeCarolis put the banquet tables, heat lamps and other equipment on wheels so it could be moved when in use.
Prior to the renovation, plates might be all over the kitchen for a banquet of 200. Now there is one table for pick-up.
Cooking equipment was moved to right behind the hot line. More stovetop space and burners were added, as well as a steak broiler and salamander.
“The members of the board gave us everything we wanted for the kitchen redesign,” DeCarolis notes.
On his wish list for the future, he would like to have a CVAP low-temperature cook-and-hold oven. He has a portable one, but wants a larger one.
In the design stage is a revamp of the pool kitchen. Originally, it was planned to serve a full-service restaurant at the pool, but budget issues changed it to a snack bar.
“I did request some larger cooking equipment, such as combi ovens, to handle catering for the inevitable pool party,” DeCarolis said.
About three years ago, Little Harbor Club in Alexandria, Va., decided to change its snack shop over to an upscale quick-service restaurant and casual bar on one side and an under-21 kids’ club on the other.
“We wanted to tap into the 20s, 30s and 40s age demographics,” explains Jamie Gillett, the club’s Executive Chef. “It was immediately an extreme success.”
Designed to provide members with an alternative to a classic lunch in the main dining room, the little restaurant, which serves everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to lobster carbonara bar-style, averages $10,000 to $12,000 dollars a day in sales. At least 50% of that revenue comes in between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., making it a very busy operation.
Seating is outdoors, leaving room for a 40-foot-long kitchen inside.
“We pack a lot of fire power into that kitchen,” Gillett emphasizes. “Although I wish we had done it a little bigger.”
That fire power includes salad and hot prep lines, a convection oven, and a wood-fired pizza oven. Two windows keep orders flowing efficiently.
Sometime in 2024 or 2025, the Little Harbor Club hopes to begin an extensive clubhouse renovation which has been two years in the designing by the General Manager and Gillett. Culinary department heads were also consulted for their wish lists.
Currently, the a la carte kitchen is on the second floor of the clubhouse, requiring runners to walk up and down two levels to pick up and serve between 500 and 600 dinners on a typical Monday evening. The new design plan brings that kitchen down to the main level to improve the flow of the operation, Gillett says.
Bathrooms will be moved outside into a bathhouse to make room for an extended dish-cleaning area on one side and storage space on the other. Upstairs will be a wide-open kitchen that will be used for high-production banquet prep.
In 2020, Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., ripped its kitchen down to the studs and replaced everything except an extensive hood system over the line. The result was the addition of 600 sq. ft. of kitchen space for a total of 2,600 sq. ft. and much-needed 300% more cooler space, according to Executive Chef Kevin Walker.
By taking over a storage area and part of the men’s locker room, Walker was able to expand his pastry shop from 70 sq. ft. to 150 sq. ft. The increase in space allowed him to broaden his bread-and-roll program which, he says, “everybody loves.” It also made room for a chef’s table with seating for eight guests in the pastry area, which is far enough away to avoid being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, but still busy enough to provide a theatrical ambiance, he says.
The new kitchen features a redesigned chef’s counter, a separate pizza station and double the deposit space for plates in the pick-up window underneath. Soup wells and a bread warmer incorporated into the chef’s counter make it easy for the front-of-the-house staff to get their own soup. He notes that if he were to redesign the counter, he would add a cold rail for plates on the salad side and put a pasta cooker at the end of the line.
Prior to the renovation, the old line had a six-well steam table. That has been reduced to two, giving more landing area for plating. Walker says he wishes he had bifurcated the steam wells, moving one closer to the sauté station to make the station more independent and save steps for the cooks.
The addition of electrical whips over the prep tables instead of plugs against the walls make the workspace more efficient, for example, when someone wants to blend something on the stove. In a walkway left open by the removal of an old three-compartment sink, blenders and Robot Coupes fit neatly and can be used on the spot instead of taking them back and forth to and from workstations.
Instead of quarry tile, Walker specified that the floor be replaced with a seamless composite floor for a more even surface that is easier to clean. With sanitation being of more importance today than ever before, the single hand sink that served the entire kitchen has been replaced with four located strategically at various workstations. An old walk-in gave way to a totally redesigned dish and pot-cleaning station.
“Not only are our kitchen operations more efficient with the new remodel; they are also cleaner and safer than ever before,” Walker states. C+RB