Skokie Country Club’s $3.7 million food-and-beverage operation—led by Executive Chef Richard Stanton—is in a class of its own with three culinary gardens, nine beehives, a flock of egg-laying hens and a dry-aging room.
For Richard Stanton, Executive Chef of Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill., every day is a grind. But his focus, determination and grit set him and the club’s $3.7 million food-and-beverage operation apart.
“[Chef Stanton] is brilliant,” says Skokie CC’s General Manager, Charles Scupham, who has been with the club since 2003 and has long been a supporter of its food-and-beverage excellence. (Scupham himself was a 2008 recipient of the Excellence in Club Management Awards, co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business.)
“He has such passion and flair for what he does,” Scupham adds. “His food is outstanding, and he hires equally skilled cooks and then pushes them to become even better.”
Managing the Bandwidth
SKOKIE COUNTRY CLUB
Location: Glencoe, Ill.
Kitchen Employees: 22
Skokie CC’s mix of F&B business is an impressive 80/20 in favor of a la carte. This puts the operation in the top 2% of clubs with similar memberships. It also makes for very busy days preparing meals for members.
“You have to be organized,” says Stanton, whose destiny to become a chef was realized when he was a kid washing dishes and cooking with his grandmother. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be since I was seven.”
Stanton’s passion for his career is especially useful as Skokie CC, like most clubs, continues to battle labor and staffing challenges. Fortunately, Stanton has found a talented right hand in his Sous Chef, Scott Webster, who has been with the club for seven years.
“I can tell if someone is going to be a good cook by the way they move through a kitchen,” says Stanton. “Some people have it. Others don’t. [Webster] has it. He is a talented young man, and we work very well together.”
Another person who “has it” is the club’s new pastry chef, Noe Vasquez.
“When our pastry chef moved on, we started looking for a replacement,” says Stanton. “I talked to a couple of people on the phone and invited them in for interviews. None of them showed up. So I stopped trying to recruit from the outside, and decided to promote one of my younger staff members instead.
“He has shown more passion than anyone else,” he continues. “And he’s doing a fine job.”
Another key player at Skokie CC is Assistant General Manager Derek Sidley, who joined the club in May of 2012. He has been instrumental in helping to overcome labor issues, diversify the staff and elevate service.
“[Sidley] was able to get three employees on J-1 visas this year,” says Scupham, who notes that Skokie CC offers dormitory housing to international staff. “These individuals have been eager to learn, and they are passionate about working with our team. They’ve been a great addition.”
Sidley’s focus on service has also changed the game in the front of the house.
“We train, retrain and have standardized our procedures,” says Sidley. “Now, we’re in the process of refining our approach. When a new person comes in, we want them to be able to hit the ground running. And we want them to understand why we do the things we do for our members.”
Skokie CC has three culinary gardens, nine beehives, a flock of egg-laying hens and a dry-aging room. As if that’s not enough, Scupham and Stanton are also looking to add a butcher shop and a proprietary, club-labeled wine in the coming months.
“Our philosophy is to source the very best quality ingredients we can find,” says Scupham, who led the charge to install the first culinary garden in 2013. “Sometimes that means buying from within the nearby Chicago area. Other times it means growing or producing ourselves.”
In total, Skokie CC has over 3,000 square feet under cultivation, and grows more than 50 different crops. One garden is more ornamental and flanks the patio.
“That one is for show,” jokes Stanton. In it, the club grows Tuscan kale, rainbow chard and bronze fennel, along with herbs and flowers that look beautiful from start to finish.
The two other larger-production gardens are in raised beds near the club’s paddle courts. In those, Skokie CC grows vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers.
“We grow everything from Japanese eggplant to bell peppers to corn to heirloom tomatoes—and the kitchen reaps the bounty,” says Stanton. From mid-July until October, he notes, vegetarian menu items are made exclusively with ingredients from the garden.
“In January, I sit down with the gardener and [Superintendent Don Cross] and we talk about what we want to grow, when it’ll be ready and how we’ll take care of it,” Stanton says.
Skokie CC’s bee hives, which were introduced along with the hens a year after the first garden took shape, are equally productive.
“The bees produce about 140 pounds of honey annually,” says Scupham. “And they travel up to five miles pollinating our gardens, flowers and plants.”
The 20 heritage-breed hens (see photo, right) live in a custom chicken coop and lay purple, blue and brown eggs. The eggs are not yet certified to serve in Skokie CC’s restaurants, though Scupham says that’s coming.
In the club’s dry-aging chamber, meats like duck and pork are dried. “Right now, I have some Berkshire pork racks, lamb loins, ribs and bone-in strips in the dry-aging chamber,” says Stanton.
Because of this dedication to quality, locality and uniqueness, menus at the club are highly seasonal and change frequently, to feature the best of what’s available.
“We make about 95% of our food from scratch, including our pasta,” says Stanton. Skokie CC’s kitchen, he notes, has several pieces of specialty equipment, including a combi oven, an ice cream maker and a pacojet.
“There’s a difference in taste when you make [items] in-house, and our members appreciate that,” Stanton says. “It’s a point of pride for them.”
Skokie CC’s beverage program is equally noteworthy; the cocktail menu stresses fresh juices, house-made bitters and mixers, as well as a signature margarita that can’t be found anywhere else. Plus, the wine and craft-beer lists offer a wide range of options for the club’s 640 members.
“We’ve expanded and improved our offerings so that our beverage menus are now of the same caliber as our dining menus,” says Sidley.
The Road Ahead
Going forward, Scupham, Stanton and Sidley have big plans on how to further improve their already impressive operation.
“We’re working with a wine company on sourcing a proprietary-label wine that only we would sell,” says Scupham.
“We want to do even more in-house,” says Stanton.
“We want to increase banquet business and maximize banquet revenue,” says Sidley.
Based on their track records, there’s a good chance these three managers will not only achieve these goals, but surpass them.
“Results are the determining factor of success in this industry,” says Scupham. “The leadership of this club, the vision of our Board and support of our members have propelled us to the position we are in today.
“[Skokie CC] is a very special place,” he adds. “It’s our job to evolve and make it even better.”