One of the most complex elements in managing a club as established as Rockaway Hunting Club (Lawrence, N.Y.) is implementing thoughtful changes that continue to move the operation forward. But as Frank Argento, who has served as the club’s General Manager for the past 12 years, knows, change demands support from leadership and buy-in from members.
With summer in full swing, Rockaway is busier than ever, and its membership continues to grow. The club recently approved a master plan that includes a new swimming pool and snack bar facility and an outdoor dining space off the main clubhouse. These changes represent Rockaway’s commitment to current and future generations of members.
Club + Resort Chef (C+RC): Tell us about the food and beverage program at Rockaway.
Frank Argento (FA): We do about $1.2 million in annual food and beverage and have more than 500 members.
We’re a destination club; most members don’t live locally. During the off-season, around November through December, we serve lunch six days a week and dinner two nights a week. January through March, we serve lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and dinner on Saturday night.
Every May, our culinary team puts together a new lunch menu. From May through September, we serve breakfast and lunch six days a week and dinner three days a week. Once we get to the off-season, that menu is scaled back. Our a la carte dinner menu is changed weekly.
C+RC: What do you view as the culinary team’s most significant strengths?
FA: Our culinary team is highly creative and always willing to change things up to keep members excited and engaged. They constantly looking for new ways to present dishes, especially in buffets, and they are diligent about quality.
The team does everything well, but [they are exceptionally skilled] with fish and different types of seafood. Anytime scallops are on the menu, we sell out. They made monkfish recently that members loved, and our branzino is excellent.
Our culinary team is organized and flexible. Sometimes members don’t tell us exactly what they want until a day or two before [they dine with us]. Even though it can be very stressful, our team always tries to accommodate every member. They are also especially sensitive to members with food allergies, which has become a big part of our business.
C+RC: What drives food and beverage success at your club?
FA: Our staff is very accommodating to members’ needs, and the food is high-quality and consistent.
C+RC: In what ways do you support the culinary operations?
FA: My job is to ensure the board and the house committees understand the economics [of our culinary program]. We’ll lose money in food and beverage, but having [these groups] understand why we do what we do is my role. It’s also my job to advocate for the culinary program and the things the team needs.
In 2018, I advocated for a kitchen renovation with the board. Our kitchen was 60 years old at the time. I worked with the board to ensure the renovation happened, and we got all the equipment we needed. We spent $1.5 million on a brand-new kitchen.
C+RC: In what ways do you support the culinary team as a whole?
FA: I believe it’s vital that our people feel valued. Every day, I walk through the kitchen, say hello to every team member, and ask about their families. That’s an essential part of my role—ensuring the staff knows I value them at all levels. They don’t have to make appointments with me. My door is always open.
It’s an honor to be the General Manager of this club. I do everything possible to ensure our staff and members have whatever they need.
C+RC: What’s next for Rockaway?
FA: We’ve recently approved a master plan, which includes a pool with a snack bar and an outdoor dining space on the back porch of the main clubhouse. It’s an offering we need to continue attracting younger members with families.
We’re already seeing an uptick in membership. People are eager and excited to be a part of this club.