Prior to the world coming to a screeching halt, country clubs across America were either in the planning stages or the midst of retooling their kitchen operations and, in some cases, adding and/or upgrading equipment. But then the coronavirus outbreak required on-the-fly adjustments, to keep members safe and well-fed with innovative takeout programs.
In early January, Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga. completed an extensive $1.2 million kitchen renovation, reports J. Kevin Walker, CMC, the club’s Executive Chef. From ripping out walls to create additional walking space, to installing new electric, gas and water lines and adding and replacing equipment, the kitchen was totally revamped for increased efficiency and to allow for the installation of two Turbo Chef pizza ovens, to accommodate a menu expansion prompted by members’ requests. The project also installed a new eight-whip electrical system, using ceiling pull-down cords, to replace wall outlets and allow Ansley’s staff to more easily work with equipment anywhere in the kitchen.
A complete redesign of the chef’s counter on the main line replaced the six-pan steam wells that it had in the middle with two steam wells and a much-needed flat surface for plating, Walker reports. A double-wide service shelf now provides more heat-lamp area, and the dish station underwent a close to $40,000 remodel, with the replacement of the too-large washer with one that is four feet shorter, as well as a new drain table.
As another part of the project, a larger-than-needed fryer was replaced with a smaller one to free up space for plating in the kitchen of the club’s 1912 Restaurant, Four more burners for sautéing and more grill space were also added in this kitchen.
Walker and Ansley’s culinary team had barely begun to enjoy the new features and efficiencies brought about by the renovation, however, when the club had to be closed becasue of the coronavirus outbreak. During the downtime period, Walker reported, “we have cleaned and sanitized every surface, so we’ll be ready to go” when the club reopened.
“We will remain hyper-focused on how everything is stored, handled, cleaned and delivered—either from the kitchen to the table, or from the back door to storage,” Walker added. “Job duties will change, and new positions will be designed [in line with that focus].”
Doing It All
Last summer, Hendersonville (N.C.) Country Club completed a major renovation of The Grill, its casual-dining venue, including a total redo of its bar equipment with the installation of a new beer-compression system, dishwashers, coolers and a blast chiller, reports Executive Chef Steven Boeger. The kitchen was also refreshed, including changing the floors from tile to a “semi-grip acrylic surface that cleans, drains and performs well,” Boeger says.
The renovation proved timely—and effective—when Hendersonville CC had to shift its operation to takeout-only after shelter-in-place orders kept members from coming to the club. During that period, The Grill offered pickup service for everything from sandwiches to a la carte entrees, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. From its main clubhouse, Hendersonville CC also offered pick-up meals on those same days from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
The club’s menus weren’t scaled back much, if at all, with the shift to takeout, Boeger reports, including the upscale a la carte fare available from the main dining room. And the menus continued to change weekly, to provide members with a wide variety of choices and flavor profiles.
One of the a la carte takeout menus offered to Hendersonville members included Caesar or House salad, crab-shrimp bisque or asparagus velouté as appetizers. And entrees, ranging in price from $14.25 to $24, included barbecue beef short ribs or king salmon with preserved lemon sauce, both with whipped potatoes and local asparagus, and tandoori chicken with basmati rice, peas and grilled bread. A variety of dessert choices were also offered with each menu.
Not surprisingly, the club’s hamburgers made from locally sourced beef also continued to be popular, Boeger reported.
For all of the takeout service, Boeger kept prices low and sent mass e-mails to members detailing the items that were available on any given day. “Because we take all precautions and work in a more controlled environment, ordering food from our kitchens [was] safer for our members than going to the grocery store,” he noted.
On one night, the club sold 125 Cuban sandwiches, Boeger reports. On other nights 130 Philly cheesesteaks and 125 lobsters were sold, and yet another brought a sellout of 150 dozen Oysters Rockefeller, at $6 a dozen, in an hour and a half.
“The membership has been supporting us like crazy—about 90% of members are ordering food from us,” Boeger reported in early April. “Members are calling me on my personal cellphone to say thank you.”
When it became apparent that a new approach would also be needed for Easter, Boeger designed a three-course, prix fixe family dinner for four, for $135. The menu began with a quart of seafood bisque, moved on to a 44-ounce prime rib with spring asparagus and Yukon Gold whipped potatoes, and concluded with spring lemon mousse cake. The club sold about 50 kits for the dinner over the holiday.
Instead of its usual staff of 16, Hendersonville produced all of this volume and variety while the club had to limit its operation to just a culinary team of four—Boeger, two sous chefs and a garde manger. “Aside from cooking, we’re also washing dishes, mopping the floors, sanitizing everything and taking out the trash,” Boeger reported.
With the spotlight intensified on sanitation, procedures were reviewed and reinforced with both the back-of-the-house and front-of-the-house staffers, he added. “I tell everybody to treat everything like it has raw chicken on it,” Boeger said. “I never wiped door handles and equipment knobs like this before, but I believe we will continue this practice moving forward.”
Further, to help laid-off food-and-beverage staffers get through the crisis, Boeger and his crew took time to prepare and offer a daily pickup staff meal. “They’re like family and they need a hot meal,” he explained.
At Summit Hills Country Club in Crestview Hills, Ky., the snack shop was given a major overhaul about a year ago as part of a $4 million renovation of various parts of the property. The redo, Executive Chef Charles Myers reports, included acquiring about $80,000 worth of equipment, including new fryers, coolers, pizza ovens and smallware.
During that same period, Summit Hills’ main clubhouse kitchen got some new undercounter refrigeration, a cooler, and a breading station to prepare its popular cod, halibut and chicken menu features. The budget for those additions was around $24,000.
When the pandemic caused Summit Hills to close its dining rooms and reduce kitchen staff by 90%, the clubhouse kitchen continued to serve members through curbside takeout a la carte items and family meals for between four and eight people. The club received an average of between 10 and 20 family meal orders per day, Myers reported, which he filled with the help of four people in the kitchen, including the dishwasher and two servers who ran the food out to the members’ cars for pickup between 4 and 5 p.m.
The takeout menu offered 15 of the best-selling items from Summit Hills’ a la carte menu, including halibut, cod, fried chicken and quesadillas, as well as some rotating special items such as build-your-own pork belly tacos and shrimp jambalaya with cornbread. During Lent, Myers added baked ziti on Fridays.
Children were able to choose from favorites such as chicken tenders and mac and cheese, and all meals came with family-style salad, bread options and chocolate chip cookies.
The takeout orders were taken mostly by phone and recorded on preprinted menu sheets. The sheets also had space for any requested modifications, such as a special type of dressing or extra cookies.
The family meals went over so well, Myers was considering making them available even after the dining room reopened, and perhaps even offering two or three selections all the time. “I like the idea of families sitting down for a meal together, even if it is at home,” he said.
If he has a limited amount of an ingredient such as duck breasts on hand, Myers will call a few members who he thinks would like them, and offer to make special meals for them. “I have a fairly intimate relationship with the members, and pretty much know who eats what and who are adventurous eaters,” he states.
Myers and staff now regularly disinfect every surface in the kitchen, including equipment and door handles—“generally everything that’s regularly touched”—and clean and sanitize deliveries when they arrive. They intended to continue those practices after the clubhouse reopened.
Lahontan Golf Club in Truckee, Calif., is normally closed until Mother’s Day. But in response to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place guidelines, J.D. Doherty, the club’s Executive chef, started a twice-weekly marketplace program, allowing members to purchase grocery needs from bathroom tissue to liquor. Doherty got the products from his usual purveyors and boxed them up for members to pick up on Tuesdays and Fridays at the club’s Lodge (pictured above).
A highlight of the service was themed boxes of products, from fruits and vegetables to grains, dairy and snack items, to provide comfort through the crisis. A breakfast box delivered everything from orange juice and tea to eggs, granola and pancake/waffle mix. And Mexican- and Italian-inspired boxes provided ingredients for meals authentic to those cultures.
The prices of the boxes ranged from $36 to $66, and the club sold 36 total boxes on the first pickup day, Doherty reported. Members could also request specific items on the order form and if Doherty could get them, he did.
“We want to help keep our members safe and healthy, so if we can shop for them, it eliminates or at least reduces the need for them to go out to stores,” he explained. C+RB