Prior to a renovation at the Houston (Texas) Racquet Club, the club had a small snack shack where sales of Dippin’ Dots, while modest, inspired a new dining concept. “The sales were minimal, but we saw an opportunity to create the concept of not only a to-go area, but a go-to favorite spot for kids,” says Director of Recreation Sicily McCambridge.
An existing ice cream bar became a to-go hot spot for members of the Houston (Texas) Racquet Club (HRC) during the height of the pandemic. Thanks to an innovative twist in service and the ability to streamline the menu for curbside pickup, “Just Chillin’” has reached new heights as a favorite destination for kids of all ages.
The transformation of this space began in 2017, when the club refocused its amenities to be more family-centric with the addition of a 500-seat, dine-in family restaurant. Prior to this renovation, the club had a small snack shack where sales of Dippin’ Dots, while modest, inspired a new dining concept.
“The sales were minimal, but we saw an opportunity to create the concept of not only a to-go area, but a go-to favorite spot for kids,” says Director of Recreation Sicily McCambridge. Just Chillin’s initial menu featured made-to-order milkshakes, slushies, sundaes and smoothies, followed by the addition of handcrafted cakes (whole or by the half-slice), decorated cookies, cake pops and cupcakes. The result was a bustling business that boosted F&B revenues well into 2019.
Primed for its next stage of development, Just Chillin’s functionality had quickly outgrown its usefulness in its allotted space. Just as the staff was preparing to revamp operations, the onset of the pandemic forced the club to stop and reassess its practices. But rather than look upon this setback as a detriment, the team saw a ripe opportunity for change.
“With the screeching halt of COVID on the horizon, we were pleasantly forced to consolidate and streamline the to-go ordering process,” says Executive Chef Adam Heath. “Whether it was through the new dedicated iPhone call line or the HRC app, we took all challenges we were faced with and turned it into a system that rivals even the Chick-fil-A drive-through process.”
Utilizing the app, members placed their orders, texted the club upon arrival and received their selections. “Touchless pickup was in high demand, so dedicating two of our closest parking spots became essential,” notes Heath.
Following members’ return to the club, the team was ready to revamp its menu and create a more structured business model that would lend itself to continued growth. “With a consolidated themed menu focusing on limited ‘Insta-worthy’ shakes and cupcakes, we were able to make a large impact quicker than expected, adding a newly assigned mascot and more pass-through offerings like retail candy, healthier gluten- and nut-free bars and fruit-like snacks that really help sell the ‘candy and Shake Shack’ look,” says Heath.
Also helping to set the scene are displays of bulk candy, with mason jars and jumbo spiral pops lining the upper shelves. Two full-time staff members have also been added to the mix, churning out Just Chillin’s signature salted chocolate chip pretzel shakes and unicorn cotton candy shakes. “It really is hard to not stop there and pick something up on your way out of the club,” notes Heath.
As demand for sweet treats persists, HRC plans to add a refrigerated pastry case in mid-July to accommodate even more confectionery creations. Chief Operating Officer Thomas Preuml, CCM, CCE, could not be more pleased with how well Just Chillin’ has been received by membership. “I love seeing the little kids getting onto the small steps at the pickup window, knocking on the glass and asking staff, who they have built relationships with, for their favorite sweet treat,” he says. “Those childhood memories at their club will stay with them forever.”
The Goal: Maintain the momentum of a popular to-go snack shop at the Houston Racquet Club and streamline business from a healthy pre-pandemic model to a flourishing operation for the long haul.
The plan: Develop a refreshed menu that expands to-go options, introduce a brand mascot and update merchandising that maximizes shelf space.
The payoff: A memory-making experience that satisfies the sweet tooth.