With its new chef-focused restaurant, improved beverage and pastry programs, and plans for a garden and chicken coop, Dallas’ Northwood Club is redefining what club dining can and should be.
When Northwood Club in Dallas, Texas, had the opportunity to reinvent its member-dining operation as part of a massive club renovation, General Manager Jon Davis and Executive Chef Matthew Seasock went rogue.
“We wanted to create an upscale restaurant with an identity of its own—but first we had to gain the trust of the membership,” says Davis, who came to Northwood a little more than a year ago, after serving as General Manager of Omaha (Neb.) Country Club.
For nearly two years, the prospect of a dining-room renovation had been kicked around at Northwood between various member committees. But with too many cooks in the kitchen, nothing was ever accomplished until Davis and Seasock took charge.
“We had been doing more covers at the pool than in the dining room, because the space was uncomfortable,” says Davis. “The pool and terrace are beautiful spaces, but there was a lot of missed a la carte potential in the main dining room, so we went to the membership, told them our plans, got their blessing and ran with it.”
Creating a Concept
The new design of Northwood’s member restaurant would set the stage for the dining experience for years to come. The pressure was on, and Davis and Seasock knew they had to get it right.
“We wanted a space that felt like a trendy Dallas restaurant,” says Davis. “Every detail was considered.”
Davis worked with two members who own an interior design firm to create a space that was both calming and upscale, without being stuffy or pretentious.
In a quick two months, Northwood’s dining room was completely transformed (see photos, pg. 23). A limestone fireplace now provides a focal point, while a new lounge overlooks the golf course. Wood columns add architectural detail and surround the two long community tables in the middle of the room. Two clusters of decadent lights hang over the dining tables, while sconces along the walls create aesthetically pleasing mood lighting.
“The renovation brought life and energy into the room,” says Davis. “Business has increased dramatically. And it’s been a lot of fun for the membership to use their club more.”
Developed by Seasock, the menu in Northwood’s 1946 restaurant (named for the year the club opened) matches its swanky new setting. It’s chef-driven and highly seasonal—a theme that runs throughout the club’s culinary operation.
“In 1946, the menu changes quarterly, with specials changing nightly,” says Seasock, who has been with the club for two years. “Each dish features big flavors that highlight the best of what’s in season.”
The restaurant’s menu is seafood-focused, with a handful of high-end steaks and braised items, too.
To keep the menu fresh, and to inspire his cooks to grow and evolve, Seasock challenges his team to develop specials they think will be successful. “I try to hire cooks who are creative, smart and good at what they do,” he says. “As Chef, I must encourage my team’s creativity. This is one way we give them ownership of the menu and inspire them to think big.”
When Seasock came to Northwood, the club had a dedicated bakeshop that was largely unused. So thinking big, he brought on Pastry Chef Rafael Torano, who has transformed the operation into a scratch-pastry kitchen that now has two additional pastry assistants.
“Our bakeshop now produces all the breads for our restaurants, as well as desserts and doughs,” says Seasock. “[Torano] is very talented and he has enhanced the quality and caliber of what we offer our members.”
Raising the Bar
When Northwood rebranded its restaurant to create 1946, the club also retooled the concept of its Open Bar, to feature a tighter, more casual menu. “We focus on small plates and high-end bar food that pairs well with cocktails and beer,” says Seasock. “Things like buffalo fried cauliflower and smoked salmon belly BLTs sell really well there.”
Northwood’s craft cocktail and beer programs are as inventive as the new menu. Developed by Food & Beverage Director Eric Stobaugh, Open Bar features a rotating selection of craft brews and an expanded, more user-friendly wine list.
“Over the past year, we’ve been able to move through old wine inventory and lay down a better stock for the future,” says Stobaugh, who came to the club nine months ago. “It’s an exciting time for the beverage side of this operation.”
When Stobaugh arrived, members drank primarily cabernets. But as he has expanded education with both the servers and members, new wines are now stepping into the spotlight. To expand its by-the-glass selection, the club has also invested in a new wine dispenser system.
“Our by-the-glass program allows members to try wines they might not otherwise be willing to buy a bottle of,” says Stobaugh. “It’s made new wines significantly more approachable.”
Similarly, Stobaugh has been retooling the cocktail menu, to feature scratch-made mixers and better align with Seasock’s philosophy of quality, house-made ingredients.
“Anyone who is dedicated to his or her craft is preaching the same thing,” says Stobaugh. “Why use something pre-made, if you can make it fresh yourself?”
Not every scratch-made mixer has turned out perfectly and some have taken considerable time to perfect—it took Stobaugh two months to create a bitters he found acceptable—but the end product is far superior. And members are taking note.
“I’ve sold at least 10,000 greyhounds since I started, because we squeeze our own juice and create our own syrup,” he says. “The quality is vastly better and sales directly reflect that improvement.”
Another successful cocktail Stobaugh perfected this past summer—dubbed fro-sé—featured rosé wine that was poured into a slurpy machine along with fresh fruit and sugar.
Why it Works
Northwood’s success is deeply rooted in the synergy of its team. There is ample respect between the managers in the kitchen and outside it—and the environment inspires collaboration and idea-sharing.
“I’m kind of an excitable guy,” says Davis. “And Chef [Seasock] is a bit more reserved, but he is incredibly talented and I deeply value his ability. It’s what makes him successful here at the club.
“I come to him with these wild ideas—like having chickens, or building a garden, or coming up with a separate menu for the Open Bar, or turning an old wine storage room into a speakeasy—and he immediately begins figuring out how to make these ideas actionable,” Davis adds.
Located near the #10 fairway, the aforementioned chicken coop will be large enough for about 25 chickens, with space for indoor and outdoor roaming. The coop, where the chickens are housed at night, will measure 10 feet by 15 feet.
The chef’s garden, located nearby, will be considerably larger than the coop, measuring 40’ by 80’.
“There will be a space near the garden to host sit-down farm-to-table dinners for up to 40 members, and at least 75 for a cocktail reception,” says Davis.
As General Manager of Northwood Club (Dallas, Texas), Jon Davis has made continuing education a priority for himself and his staff. The importance, he says, is not only self-improvement, but in team-building opportunities.
“Executive Chef Matthew Seasock and I just returned from the tenth annual Chef to Chef Conference in Seattle,” says Davis. “This was our second year attending together. As a GM, I’ve attended dozens of CMAA Conferences. They are what you make of them. But this conference is different and I make it a point to go with my chef. He not only sees my support of him and his department, but we walk away with actionable ideas and strategies. It’s inspiring.
“It also allows us to spend time exploring another culinary city and meeting chef peers,” says Davis. “These are serious chefs from serious clubs who have cool ideas they’re really passionate about. I want Chef [Seasock] to see that. I’m not just flapping my gums when I throw all these ideas at him. This conference allows him the chance to see what other clubs are doing and learn how they are succeeding, so that we can continue that success here at Northwood.”
Northwood plans to leverage the garden and chicken coop as a way to ensure their members are served the healthiest, freshest, most sustainably grown food available.
“So many of our members choose organic, all-natural, gluten-free, fresh, locally grown products and ingredients,” says Davis. “Those are the baseline qualifications for the food they purchase at the store, feed their families and eat at home and in other restaurants. In order to stay relevant to current and future members, we need to move in that direction, too.”
The garden and coop, which will open later this summer, will be run by Seasock as well as Northwood’s Horticulturist and Golf Superintendent.
In addition to these outdoor updates, Northwood is transforming a wine storage room into a special-event venue.
“It’s located in the depths of the club,” says Davis, describing the plan to create a wine cellar in the style of a Prohibition-era “speakeasy” that can seat up to 16 people.
“We must define what F&B can and should be,” Davis adds. “We can’t take a back seat and let the trends or other clubs set the pace. We must think big—and then go bigger.”