The Country Club of Detroit’s culinary team, led by Executive Chef Brian Beland, CEC, has boosted F&B revenues by $1 million over the past three years, in part through a successful “sandbox” approach to menu creativity.
Brian Beland, CMC, is one of only 67 Certified Master Chefs in America. He is also the Executive Chef of the Country Club of Detroit (CCD) in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. Chef Beland has worked at CCD since 1999, and has been its top chef since 2006. In 2011, he also took on the duties of Food & Beverage Manager.
When Chef Beland speaks about other departments of the club, you know he has absorbed and learned all he can about what his fellow managers do. That’s what makes him a prized possession of this storied 119-year-old club, where Arnold Palmer won the 1954 United States Amateur Championship. The 36-year-old certainly does not present your average club-chef profile.
Beland has worked for, been mentored by, and competed against many of the best chefs in the world. It was a pleasure for us to hear Chef Beland’s thoughts on our industry—and from our conversation, you quickly realize what a forward-thinker he is.
C&RB: Chef, you’ve increased F&B sales at the Country Club of Detroit by $1 million over the last three seasons, gaining $500,000 in 2015 after gains of $300,000 in 2014 and $200,000 in 2013. How have you pulled this off?
Beland: It has taken an overall commitment by the entire club, and not just the food-and-beverage operation, to make this a reality. As a club, we made a commitment to grow our business model and facility offerings. When most properties were reducing business during the recession, we committed to enhancing, building and growing.
We renovated our Grille Room kitchen that was strictly for lunch, with short-order service, into a full-service line so we could enhance our offerings with a new casual-dining facility that includes a “Kids Zone.” The club also built a brand-new Summer Village around our pool, which opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. It includes a full-service summer restaurant and bar, to create a more resort-like experience. And plans are currently underway for a new bowling facility and 5,000-sq. ft. fitness facility. We have also had tremendous growth in our membership during this time.
The culinary team’s role in this growth was to deliver an uncompromising level of cuisine and service. We had to hit our “Service Guarantees,” and that meant we had to not just talk about hospitality, we had to live it. When you live it and believe in it, great things happen. It has been a total team effort, not just among management, but with our Board of Governors and entire membership.
C&RB: Your new Summer Village and pool restaurant grossed as much in the first six weeks last year than during the entire 16-week season in 2014. Tell us about the concept and why it was so well-received.
Beland: We approached this new area with excitement. I had to market for a full-service kitchen, and convince everyone of what we could do with the right facility.
As at any club, an upgrade of this magnitude had to bring about a change in offerings. The normal “snack bar” fare would not provide our members with the experience they deserved, and a menu like that would not justify the project dollars they were investing in us.
We looked at this space as an opportunity to do something that was not traditional Midwest club cuisine. We chose to focus on “global fresh flavors”—foods that were recognizable, but had multicultural influences. The menu we developed had to be serviceable for high-volume, low-ticket times—light, fresh and coming with big flavors.
C&RB: You’ve also seen your formal dining room morph into a steakhouse concept. What was the feedback like during that transformation?
Beland: Over the years, our club as a whole has worked to become more approachable and usable across all demographics of our membership. We are focused on maintaining the club’s standards and respecting its history, while also transforming and adapting to the way that our members want to use their club today.
Being too buttoned up and “stuffy” was not going to keep our club relevant to today’s market. Through some clubhouse renovations in 2007-08, we addressed the ambiance issues. Décor changed, new uses for room spaces were devised, and we delivered a facility that can help to lead us forward on our strategic plan.
The term “steakhouse” is something I use when working with our team to help them think about how we approach menu development and the experience we look to deliver. It is a dining experience most can relate to when they have not dined in a private club before.
We have also found, over many years of menu changes, seasonal adaptations, experimentation and member interaction, that we needed an equilibrium for how we were going to offer our foods. This called for balancing CCD’s “Club Classics” with the need to also provide a metropolitan dining experience.
We developed a core menu that remains in place for member comfort, and then we created a culinary “sandbox” as a place for our cooks and our cuisine to grow, and that could be used to bring along our members to broaden their palates and expectations of what we can provide. The “sandbox” takes the form of a weekly menu that highlights broader flavors, techniques, presentations and global influences. This allows us to have fun exercising our creative side. Developing and introducing new flavors, ingredients and techniques to our members, as well as our culinary team, has broadened and educated the experience for all.
All of our restaurants are rooted in core culinary skill fundamentals, using quality fresh meats, seafood and produce. To us, those are basic standards. We teach them, we enforce them, we follow up on them and we look to improve upon them. We do not have to be the most “modern”—that is not what our demographic wants. What we do have to be is great every day in food, service and hospitality.
C&RB: You are now F&B Manager as well as Executive Chef. How did you adapt your role as chef when taking on those additional duties in 2011?
Beland: The day-to-day routine did not change too much, as I already worked very closely with our front-of-house operation. This opportunity helped us to further bridge our relationship.
There has been more financial analysis for the department, and I am more involved and lead the strategic development for F&B, but I do not view that role as a major deviation from what is expected of me in the Executive Chef role. At CCD, the role of the Chef is not limited to the kitchen; the Chef is expected to participate as an executive on a cross-departmental level. The combined efforts of all of us are what have generated our results and recent successes.
C&RB: I can clearly hear the strategic planner in you. Tell us what you believe are the three most important characteristics that a club F&B program should strive for, long-range.
Beland: 1) Identity. Define what you represent and the standards of the program. Write it down and market it to your team and to your members. Believe in and live that identity—it will guide you to all your answers and lead you on a quest to continually strive to excel. The more it is shared, the more you are held accountable to deliver it—and being held accountable will push for continued growth.
2) Commitment to continued growth and development. Growth and development should be focused on the team, the members, the club, the cuisine and the service. The growth is most often not in material items—although sometimes this is required—but through a commitment to developing your identity, purpose and standards.
3) Open mind. Without an open mind, there will never be positive change and progress. Your commitment will fall to the wayside, your identity will no longer be clear, and your ability to lead will be lost.
C&RB: Chef, you are also a full-time Chef Instructor at a local college. How does this help you as a chef, and how has it enhanced your culinary internship program?
Beland: Taking on this new opportunity while still maintaining my role at the club was, and continues to be, an exciting challenge. This opportunity has pushed me to become a better leader for our team at the club. I have had to manage my time better and focus on team development, not only with our culinary brigade but across all areas of F&B that need my touch.
A benefit of being a Chef Instructor has been the ability to meet and educate culinary minds at school—so the club receives the benefit of not only my personal growth, but we also have the ability to recruit directly for culinary interns, offering them a paid opportunity to gain hands-on, real-life experience. This has been a benefit especially when working to build our seasonal teams, and has given us the ability to create depth within our team year-round.