Westchester CC’s $10.5 million F&B operation attracts members, commands attention, and leaves guests craving more.
There are plenty of impressive details within the food-and-beverage operation of Westchester Country Club (WCC) in Rye, N.Y. But the most impressive may be the easiest to overlook: Westchester’s customer service and unyielding dedication to members’ tastes and preferences.
These well-honed characteristics—along with a few others—have helped the club to establish a strong F&B presence that is polished, poised and prepared.
Westchester’s culinary team, led by Joseph Albertelli, an accomplished Executive Chef who competes nationally and internationally in various culinary and ice-carving competitions, caters to members by offering modern, ever-changing menus that highlight fresh, seasonal ingredients. Meanwhile, in the front of the house, James Schulz, Director of Restaurant Outlets, works tirelessly with servers and staff to ensure that each experience is personalized and satisfying.
AT A GLANCELocation: Rye, N.Y.
Average Annual F&B Revenue: $10.5 million
A la carte/Banquet Mix: 45/65
Food Cost: 41%
Annual F&B Minimum: $1,600
Annual Golf Rounds: 42,000-43,000
Average Member Age: 55
Foodservice Venues: Two halfway houses; The Main Club: Main Grill (fine dining), Sports House Grill (lunch service), The Sports House Dining Room and Terrace
(fresh, locally farmed and sustainable ingredients); The Beach Club: The Sand Bar, Beach Side Grill (burgers, steaks), The Snack Bar (fast-casual snack bar with
fresh salad bar, deli and quick-service grill, action stations), Ice Cream Shoppe, Gun Club (upscale, seafood-focused, bistro-style served al fresco)
Foodservice Employees: 250
Kitchen Size: 5,000 sq. ft.
• Main Club: 250,000 sq. ft.
• Beach Club: 75,000 sq. ft.
This marriage of quality and care has helped to transform an already impressive F&B operation into a stunning showcase for contemporary American cuisine.
Despite its size, WCC’s food-and-beverage operation operates under a clear guiding principlethat always puts the member first. As a result, WCC—a Platinum Club of America—is continually recognized for its culinary and service excellence.
“Chef and I have a great relationship,” says Schulz, who has a bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., in Culinary/Hotel Restaurant Management. “We’re open and direct
with one another. And we respect each other’s position, experience and opinions.”
That partnership, along with a great deal of support from management, is a big part of the club’s continued success.
“If a member asks for the chef, they get the chef,” says Schulz. “If it’s something we can respond to in the front of the house, we will.”
The process to please members begins well before food gets to the table, though. It starts in the kitchen with better quality ingredients, prepared correctly.
“Proper technique is everything,” says Albertelli, who has been with WCC for seven years, serving as Executive Chef for the last two.
Menus change frequently. Specials change daily. Classics remain consistent. And seasonality is of the utmost importance.
“We’re about 90% scratch,” says Albertelli, adding that he purchases products such as chicken tenders and French fries for banquet events, where economies of scale are vital.
WCC members have access to comfortably casual cuisine in the club’s grills. Meanwhile, more innovative fare can be found at both The Gun Club, which trends younger and focuses on seafood, and The Sports House Dining Room and Terrace, which relies on fresh, locally farmed and sustainable ingredients.
“We have a small garden on property, too, where we grow herbs and tomatoes,” says Albertelli.
Thinking creatively has been an especially important factor for the duo as they’ve refined the operation over the past two years. Programs like “truffle month” have given WCC an edge it never had before.
“Last October, members were given the opportunity to have fresh shaved truffles added to literally anything they ordered,” says Albertelli.
“We did it as we were coming out of the season, just before the holidays, as things were slowing down,” says Schulz. “Members couldn’t get enough of it. It helped to drive usage during a time of year that is otherwise pretty slow.”
WCC also has its own dedicated bakeshop, run by Head Pastry Chef Cara LaRocca. “She does all our breads, Danishes, pastries, desserts and even wedding cakes,” says Albertelli. “Cara is fond of hosting cooking classes for kids, too.”
While focusing on contemporary American fare, WCC also hosts numerous functions such as themed events and winemaker dinners that feature the full spectrum of global cuisine. In fact, its banquet business is a substantial contributor, earning a little over $4 million annually.
“Our Catering Manager, Paul Brock, came up with the idea last year to purchase a large tent that we could use for outdoor events,” says Schulz. “This has opened up an entirely new stream of potential business.”
Unfazed by Phases
WCC maintains state-of-the-art kitchen and dining facilities both at the Main Clubhouse as well as its seasonal Beach Clubhouse, which just underwent a massive renovation to include a new Ice Cream Shoppe, outdoor dining space and a unique, multi-concept Snack Bar.
“It’s similar to a quick-service café, where there are three outlets within one,” says WCC’s General Manager, Paul Kruzel, CCM.
The Snack Bar is as casual as it gets. There’s a fresh salad bar, a deli and a quick- service grill, which caters to the younger, family-oriented members who frequent the Beach Club in season. (The Beach Club is also home to a high-volume BBQ concept that serves up a variety of house-smoked favorites.)
When designing the new spaces (as well as updating all back-of-house areas at WCC), research that extends beyond club settings has proved to be a key contributor to the process.
“Our Executive Sous Chef, Gerald Ford, saw a panini press at a fast-casual restaurant chain and thought it might be a useful addition,” says Albertelli. “It grills a panini in 60 seconds. We purchased one thinking we’d give it a try and it’s been so well-received, we’re actually looking at getting another.”
In addition to the new equipment, the renovations added more windows, better flow and more open spaces.
“The goal was not only to create a more useful snack bar concept for our members, but to bring light and modern updates into what was previously a dark and dated space,” says Schulz.
The Snack Bar renovation was the first phase of a threephase project to update WCC’s Beach Club. The second phase included expanding the bar area and adding an attention-grabbing mahogany bar top that emulates a Chris Craft boat deck. The third and final phase will add a second-floor sun deck with fire pits, lounge chairs and views of Long Island Sound.
“We’re always looking to bring new and different experiences to our membership,” says Kruzel, who has a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales and worked at the Jonathan Club (Los Angeles, Calif.) and the Country Club of Darien (Conn.) before coming to WCC a year and a half ago. “Club dining has to be dictated by our members’ lifestyles. They’re time-deprived. They want more casual experiences. They don’t want to sacrifice quality. Their palates are more sophisticated.
“They don’t want us to be [New York restaurant] Per Se or the finest steakhouse with white-glove service,” he says. “We’re an extension of their homes, and our food and service must reflect that desire.”
The menus and the Beach Club aren’t the only things experiencing a renaissance at WCC. Beverage service is also seeing a resurgence, thanks to Schulz’s passion and dedication to wine, beer and spirits.
“I kind of inherited a mixed bag of managers’ wines,” he says. “Over the past year, we’ve worked really hard to move the things that didn’t fit and in their place offer wines that are rare; that are single-vineyard based; and that underscore the value of being a member at a private club like this.”
WCC’s pricing strategy is remarkably competitive. “We don’t mark up wines like our competitors,” says Schulz. “This has helped us to further capture members who appreciate fine wine.”
To educate servers on new wines, Schulz came up with a clever way to have them teach one another.
“Each week, two servers are given a wine to research and learn about,” he says. “They are asked to fill in basic information on a profile sheet, which they use to present to the other servers. Their findings are then added to our wine notebook, so anyone at any point can access the information for a member.”
Seasonal cocktails and craft beers are also on the rise.
“We added eight new taps to the bar at the Beach Club,” says Schulz. “It’s kind of our playground for craft beer now.”
The Road Ahead
As Westchester Country Club puts the finishing touches on the Beach Club, the F&B team will now set its sights on ways to further improve the Main Club.
“We are constantly upgrading,” says Kruzel. “We’ll look at new equipment that can help improve efficiencies, or extend our abilities for what we can offer and how we can prepare
In fact, Albertelli recently met with a scientist who helped develop a HACCP plan so the club can now do sous vide as well as use a blast chiller.
“When it comes to having a strong F&B presence within your club, actions speak louder than words,” says Kruzel. “Each year, we look at new ways to support, enhance and expand our program.”