Baltimore CC assembled a dynamic team of managers who are evolving the food-and-beverage program to exceed expectations.
Baltimore may be known for its bounty of local seafood and picturesque Inner Harbor, but “Charm City” is also home to some of the country’s most chef-driven club dining programs.
Most notable is Baltimore Country Club (BCC), which operates out of two clubhouses, has four kitchens and does $5.9 million in annual F&B. BCC is distinguishing itself from the other clubs in town by investing in its facilities, harnessing its team’s collective creativity and turning ideas into action.
At the helm of BCC’s F&B program is Executive Chef Richard Jallet, who has been with the club since 2014 and was with Eldorado Country Club (Indian Wells, Calif.) for ten years before that. Working closely with Jallet is Kent Johnson, General Manager and COO, who joined BCC’s team two years ago after spending more than a decade as GM of the nearby Elkridge Club.
“As the GM of a competing club, my goal at Elkridge was to make BCC’s life hell by being better than them in every way possible,” says Johnson. “We actually used to refer to BCC as the ‘Evil Empire.’”
The two clubs may only be 2.5 miles apart, but the size and scope of their programs are vastly different. Regardless, Johnson spent a decade trying to beat BCC. Now, as its leader, he has something to prove.
“The [BCC Board] tasked me with the following three things: finish the master plan, improve the F&B experience and improve the golf experience,” says Johnson.
The team began working with a full-service, private-club consulting firm to craft a master plan that will shift many of the amenities from BCC’s Roland Park property within city limits to its Five Farms property in the suburb of Lutherville. Phase one of implementing the plan was supposed to start earlier this year, but has been delayed until 2021, due to COVID-19.
While the long-term plan was being drafted, Johnson was also focused on F&B. This meant leaning hard on Jallet.
“We didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” says Jallet. “When [Johnson] shared his vision of F&B, it sounded great, but the only way to bring it to life would be to make some capital investments.
“I needed new equipment,” continues Jallet. “I needed china, silver, a pizza oven, a plancha and a fryer.”
Jallet turned over his wish list and Johnson gave him everything he asked for. The investment totaled around $40k.
“[Chef] has risen to every challenge,” says Johnson.
With the tools now in place, Jallet is even more focused on building and developing his team and producing quality cuisine that rivals not just Elkridge, but all of the clubs and restaurants in town.
“If I can buy it better, I will,” says Jallet. “If I can’t, I make it.”
This philosophy extends to all parts of the menu, from a la carte to to-go, and from condiments to pastry.
At BCC’s pool, for example, members can order a shrimp cocktail that’s been roasted with lemon, thyme and garlic. On the golf course, they can order a mess-free signature turnover filled with smoked brisket and smoked gouda. And because the team spent all of last season perfecting its pizza dough, BCC became a sought after pizza preference during quarantine, when to-go was the only way to serve members.
Nurturing the Team
Excellence in food-and-beverage is not inevitable. It’s the direct result of teamwork.
Jallet has a keen eye for talent and pours himself into mentoring his cooks, so they can learn and grow beyond their entry-level positions.
Case in point: Kevin Keller, Executive Sous Chef, who came to BCC almost four years ago. He interviewed for the restaurant chef position, but was too green for the top spot. But Jallet, seeing his potential, created a new position for him: assistant restaurant chef.
Jallet worked closely with Keller, teaching him how to write menus and develop recipes. Eventually he was promoted—and then promoted again.
“I am his right hand and I continue to be blown away by how much access all of the cooks have to Chef,” says Keller. “I didn’t have that in previous positions. He’s approachable and supportive. He talks through ideas so that we can explore what might work and what might not.”
The challenges that arose from the COVID-19 outbreak are a perfect example of Jallet’s ability to collaborate.
“We’ve had to change the whole dynamic of what we were doing in the culinary department,” says Keller. “Chef and I worked through new [Standard Operating Procedures]. We have to enforce masks and gloves. We’ve implemented new ways to sanitize the kitchen with a black light. And we’ve had to do this in such a way that it’s fool-proof.”
‘Kitchen to Cup’
As the newest member of BCC’s management team, Nicholas A. Steege, Director of Food & Beverage, has forged his relationship with Jallet in the trenches of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I started the day after Christmas,” says Steege, who previously worked at Baltimore’s Maryland Club, as well as at Bethesda (Md.) Country Club, the Naples Bay Club in Florida, and with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. “In that time [from his arrival to when the club had to be closed for the pandemic], we shifted a la carte from Roland Park to Five Farms.”
Pre-COVID, Steege was also tasked with improving the club’s beverage program. Before he came to BCC, the club didn’t have a cocktail menu. Now, in line with how the culinary program has evolved, the beverage program is just as innovative.
“We’re using all hand-made ingredients in our cocktails,” says Steege, who dubs this new initiative “kitchen to cup.”
“We’re using scratch syrups and infused spirits,” he explains. “Our Beverage Manager, Patrick Owens, stocked the cellar and reworked our ‘BCC Manhattan.’ We’re focused on preferences and paying attention to behaviors.”
No detail is too small, adds Steege. “If a member prefers lemon over lime, that should be noted, so the next server can carry on that personalized level of service.”
When Maryland went into lockdown, Steege was most concerned with how he and his front-of-house team would maintain a relationship with members. He brought his concerns to Jallet, who explained the club’s COVID-19 response plan.
It included a rotating 10-day curbside menu, a pantry program, grill kits, theme nights, delivery programs, virtual events and even a program called “BCC Cares,” where members could purchase meals prepared by BCC for delivery to healthcare workers.
“It’s been a wild ride, but [Chef Jallet] has been steady and collaborative,” says Steege. “He puts a lot of trust in his team and still takes command to provide structure, even when the world seems to be falling apart around us.”
The Road Ahead
One of the biggest shifts at BCC that has come out of the club’s COVID-19 response has been the newfound camaraderie between the back- and front-of-house staffs.
“With so many outlets, it’s easy to be disconnected, but this crisis has brought us all together for the members and for each other,” says Steege.
“The biggest challenge for me throughout COVID-19 has simply been that there’s no end in sight,” Jallet adds. “I have to keep morale high. And as we bring people back, I need to make sure they’re a good fit for who we’ve become.”
Some programs launched during the shutdown will continue, like to-go service, the virtual wine society, and the pantry program. Others will fall off and be replaced by new programs. Whatever happens, BCC will move forward with strong, agile leaders who can lean on one another to improve the operation.
“[Kent Johnson] introduced the philosophy that we live by one simple truth here at BCC: ‘Great People Make Favorite Places,’” says Jallet. “It starts with the team. If you take care of your people, they will take care of your members.”