Instead of dwelling on the negative, Fiddlesticks CC’s Executive Chef Ryan Daniels is focusing on all the good ideas, teamwork and progress that has come out of the challenges of the pandemic.
What would have been a summer filled with news of who won the gold medal in swimming has instead turned into a never-ending news cycle of health and safety concerns, unrest and conflicting reports. In the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing is for certain: I appreciate my team and this industry now more than ever.
I have always been more of an optimist so this has been a perfect opportunity to review the tenacity, determination, resolve and ingenuity that has been exhibited by many chefs and club professionals during this pandemic. The situation has taken many of us out of our comfort zones, helped us understand adaptation, and the art of making very difficult decisions under unprecedented circumstances.
For some privately owned restaurants, hopes and dreams have sadly transitioned to fear and disappointment. But what if George Washington and the Continental army packed it up when times got tough? We may never have the opportunities we have been given if not for their perseverance. Or if Rocky threw in the towel when Mick died and he never defeated Clubber Lang? What if after December 7, 1941 after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the United States shuttered in and never joined the war? What if the field was never built in Field of Dreams, would they have ever come?
Some of these are fictional examples and some are not. But they equally mirror the same determination our industry has exhibited in the past few months. Just like in the movies, it isn’t always a happy ending and I am proud of the effort culinarians have put forth to try and save their operations.
Personally, there have been some very memorable moments, learning opportunities, and successes. So, instead of writing about how tough these times have been, or how difficult life has become, or how uncomfortable I have been, I wanted to write about the successes, memories and unique offerings we have implemented.
I remember on March 14, immediately following a St. Patrick’s Day buffet (with COVID compliance of course), my General Manager, Ryan Shaw, as well as the Board of Directors made the decision to get ahead of the curve and close all indoor and outdoor dining. This is when we went to the drawing board.
First, our priority was the safety of the membership as well as the staff. There was no playbook on how to operate, right or wrong best practices, and information that changed not daily, but hourly. Second, how can we offer the highest food and beverage services, maintain the quality we have become known for and offer numerous options so the membership would not have to leave the gates of the community?
We began by offering take out menus that changed daily. This way the membership would have different options every day and psychologically it gave them an opportunity to look forward to something. It challenged the minds of the culinary staff to evolve and execute menus in a way we have never prepared for.
Along with the daily menus, we developed a frozen food “TV Dinner” menu that allowed members to order their dinner frozen to be cooked at home at their leisure. Menu items included turkey pot pie, salmon dinner with brussel sprouts and spaghetti squash, pasta and meatballs, three meat stuffed shells, and the list goes on.
In addition to preparing daily menus as well as maintaining tv dinners that became a huge hit, we also created the Fiddlesticks Pantry.
Once we planted our roots and developed some sort of routine, we understood that normalcy was still foreign to us all. Our next objective was how do we continue to evolve as well as challenge ourselves and offer a unique dining experience. We were smoking on our giant wood smoker out back and Mr. Shaw came by and asked if we could do a drive-up smokehouse.
We would bring the smoker around to the front entrance and light it up mid-day so the smell filled the community all afternoon. Our Director of Happiness, Sarah Martini-Ricci, put the logistics and decorations together and away we went. I expected we would feed roughly 130-150 members and it turned out I could not have been more wrong. We fed over 300 members. So, you could imagine the scrambling, “creative” cooking, and on the fly creations we needed to dream up. It was quite the learning opportunity and in moments like those I believe I grow the most.
After that and with Sarah’s help, we developed some innovative curbside offerings. They included an ice cream “anti” social, Brats and Beers, a smokehouse “redemption” night, and a picnic on the lawn. This became “normal” to us and we continued on this path of creating and executing for quite some time. In the moment it was all quite overwhelming. Developing menus, managing all the costs, balancing labor, thinking outside the box and most importantly ensuring the health of myself, my family and my staff.
In retrospect, I am proud of the perseverance and tenacity we showed as well as the support by each department and our amazing membership. These kinds of scenarios can tear a team apart, create bad cultures and habits, and destroy years of hard work. But, from day one, we met as a team and laid it all out. We agreed that this was going to be a different operation and that plans will change and flexibility as well as facing the changes positively would be of upmost importance.
As corny and cliché as it might sound, we went in with the “all for one and one for all” mentality—and it worked.
The creative “out of the box” thinking we embraced still has me in awe. Offering daily menus not only challenged our creativity but our cost management skillset, too. I have always bragged about my culinary team but I was—and still am—inspired by their never quit, push the limits, and adapt and overcome attitudes.
Last, the support, guidance, versatility and grace displayed by Mr. Shaw, the Board of Director’s and the entire Fiddlesticks’ membership hasn’t gone unnoticed. Without them, we wouldn’t have the freedom and support to innovate and evolve as we have.
When times get tough, our true character is defined. It brings out the best or worst in people. As we continue to open slowly and develop how we operate “normally,” we know that our industry will never be the same. For some it means closing their doors completely after years of hard work and for others it means completely changing their business model to ensure their revenues can support their operation. For clubs, it’s an opportunity to revamp ourselves and an opportunity to create unique and innovative ways of serving food and beverages.
At Fiddlesticks CC, we have our Cabana open daily for casual dining but for three nights a week we created the “Style and Grace” Bistro. We offer a fine dining a la carte dinner menu that continues to challenge our creative skill set, all outdoors in a safe environment. The sky is the limit on what we can do, and our team will continue to push the envelope as we move forward in the coming months.
We do not have a crystal ball. We are challenged to find the good in the situation, look inwardly for self-improvement and be there for our members in every way possible. We cannot control when things like this happen, but we can control our thoughts and actions.