Bread programs may not be a cash cow, but they do sustain member expectations.
It’s that unmistakable scent that exudes comfort, warmth and all things homey. Freshly baked bread hints at the makings of a great meal and yet for some clubs, revamped programming is a sign of an evolving kitchen—one that is keeping cost front and center, but that doesn’t compromise quality.
At Fiddler’s Elbow in Bedminster, N.J., the bread program marries member preferences and chef selections. “We make all of the pizza dough in-house for the entire property,” says Executive Pastry Chef John Sauchelli, who has been at the club for the past year and a half. The kitchen also concentrates its pastry production on flatbreads, crackers, biscuits, scones, donuts, croissant-style items like Kouign-Amann, and individual breads and rolls for sandwiches.
For its supplemental baked goods, the kitchen opts to outsource bulk items like bagels, loaf breads and hamburger rolls from a local supplier. “High quality and freshness are paramount,” says Sauchelli when considering vendor partners. On an average day, Fiddler’s Elbow’s kitchen turns out between 200 and 330 covers for its casual Grill Room, and an additional 60 to 70 covers for dinner at the Elbow Room, making the emphasis on house-made bread essential for member satisfaction.
While the club’s bread program is robust, it is not a profit-maker for the overall F&B business. “It’s giving our members more of a ‘wow’ factor with some key items that pop, in addition to what we outsource,” explains Sauchelli. Of note are monthly wine dinners that feature a particular region and/or specific winemaker.
“For events like these, we like to add something more special for our members—perhaps a house-made bread item that could be a flatbread or cracker for one of the courses, a bun for a sandwich special, or a buttery soft dinner roll as a side item,” Sauchelli says.
When selecting outside vendors, particularly for special events held during the pandemic, Sauchelli stresses the importance of maintaining a safe kitchen. “For many of the items being brought in for a [serving] station or buffet scenario, our vendor has the ability to prepackage them, which makes our members feel safer and keeps handling to a minimum,” he notes.
Until restrictions have been lifted and the kitchen can resume full operations, Fiddler’s Elbow’s bread program will have to maintain its key offerings without deviating too far from the norm. The club currently offers individual portions of bread delivered on a tray by the waitstaff, minimizing the risk of contact and unnecessary waste. “In the future, we will look to implement plans to create more regular offerings that we can experiment with now and bring to the table at a later time,” says Sauchelli.
Rising to the Occasion
For the pastry staff at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Country Club, while 2020 has been challenging, it’s also created an opportunity to broaden the bread program and fine-tune the balance between in-house and outsourced production.
“COVID-19 has pushed us to look outward, due to the [state’s] executive orders and the shutdown of many local [bakeries and] shops,” says Executive Pastry Chef Casey Konkol. “Being able to provide fresh bread to our members, with no additives or preservatives, is just one of the small changes that have been impactful to our operation.”
Harnessing twelve years of experience in the casino industry, during which she was responsible for the bulk production of scratch breads, Konkol has been helping to build Kalamazoo CC’s bread program since she came to the club last year. After being schooled in baking loaf and artisan breads, English muffins, bagels, breakfast pastries and doughnuts, the chef carved out a niche roster of bread offerings that speak to a diverse range of tastes. Grilled naan, ciabatta, baguettes, hoagies and Bavarian pretzels have found a home alongside Italian loaves, oil and herb pillow rolls, bread bowls, biscuits, bagels, grissinis and breadsticks—all made in-house.
Outside of Konkol’s kitchen, she sources three variations of sliced loaf breads, hot dog rolls and hamburger buns from a local bakery. In addition, gluten-free buns and assorted dinner rolls for banquet events are supplied by a big-box vendor. “Often the items we feature on special events in our dining room find their way onto the menu,” she explains.
Although Kalamazoo CC’s bread program is relatively modest, the kitchen is focused on member engagement over dollars. “Profit was not a concern over the experience we want to create,” admits Konkol. “In the private-club industry we are in the dues business, and membership satisfaction is our focus.” Providing quality products and ensuring that they are handled in a safe environment are also key reasons for maintaining a solid bread program for the membership, she notes.
Rather than viewing the pandemic as a detriment to production, Konkol has seen it as a chance to bolster her club’s existing bread program. Kalamazoo CC is in the beginning stages of developing a brand-new bakery, which will plant the seeds for an intern program with a local college, full retail bread service, and banquet-bread production.
“We have definitely realized the benefits of being able to provide more items in-house and through this, we have seen where a full bread program would be very beneficial for our membership,” Konkol notes.
At Kings Creek Country Club in Rehoboth Beach, Del., bread-making is a carefully balanced operation that marries seasonal offerings with standard selections. Longtime Pastry Chef Jaime Ellis, who has worked at the club for her entire 11-year career, bakes up cranberry walnut rolls and potato rolls (both member favorites), alongside fall-inspired pumpkin dinner rolls and honey wheat rolls. Italian-influenced breads like garlic parmesan, rosemary and olive rolls round out the house selections.
When outsourcing the kitchen’s inventory of sub rolls and baguette breads, Ellis keeps brand names and an operation’s size in mind. “We choose local, reputable small bakeries,” she says.
While Kings Creek’s bread program is not a money maker, Ellis feels that it serves as a member benefit that allows her to appeal to different tastes and dietary needs. “Member input is important to me, and they appreciate the fresh variety,” she explains. “We have a select few who request gluten-free and for them, we offer a gluten-free rosemary focaccia made in-house.” For the colder weather, she plans to add sweet potato rolls and sage rolls to the menu.
Baking during the COVID pandemic has prompted Ellis to rethink her bread offerings, and she has adjusted baking processes accordingly. After putting a temporary hold on bread baskets, the club is offering a safer alternative: individual rolls with individual ramekins of whipped butter. “The rolls store and keep better than sliced breads and additionally, there are not baskets coming back with leftover bread,” she notes.