When he accepted the opportunity in 2013 to become the new General Manager/COO at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn. [“Keys to Sustained Success,” C&RB, November 2014], Eric J. Dietz, CCM/PGA, knew that the team he was joining had incredible capacity, capability and potential—and that together, nothing would be impossible.
Already, with his full support behind the club’s food-and-beverage team, F&B revenues at Interlachen, which usually hover around $3.1 million annually, are up 12.5%.
The added success has come in large part from Dietz’s management style, which is built around a belief in hiring the best and then giving them the freedom to do their best. He encourages his staff to take full advantage of professional development opportunities, and works hard to maintain meaningful relationships with team members.
In the case of Interlachen’s Executive Chef, Gilbert Junge, Dietz backed up those beliefs by arranging for the two of them to attend C&RB’s Chef to Chef Conference in San Antonio in March 2014.
As he explained to Chef to Chef, this was the best way, Dietz felt, to help develop a strong working relationship.
C2C: Both you and Chef Junge are relatively new to Interlachen. How has your relationship grown?
ED: Establishing a meaningful relationship between the club manager and the chef is a lot like dancing. You take it slow and feel each other out. It’s a partnership and it demands respect.
When I first came on board, Chef was not only relatively new to Interlachen, but also to the club industry [Junge had previously worked in the culinary operations of the University of Minnesota]. He is incredibly talented, but we didn’t know one another yet. I thought it would be beneficial for us to attend the Chef to Chef Conference in San Antonio.
C2C: How did it go?
ED: Beyond the educational opportunities that the Conference provides, it gave us a chance to spend time together outside the club. I got to live in his world for a couple days and learn more about the challenges he faces, in a way that I might not have had we not gone.
C2C: How has that impacted your perception of F&B?
ED: I came up the ranks through golf [Dietz, a PGA Professional, is one of only about a dozen PGA pros who have also achieved the Certified Club Manager designation]. And for a very long time, I believed golf was the primary reason people joined clubs. My wife, who is also in the club industry, has spent the past 20 years swearing up and down that people join clubs because of the food.
I’ve come to learn that she’s right.
Club chefs have an incredibly difficult job, but they do it with passion and sophistication. Until you know what happens in a club kitchen, you can’t truly appreciate how much work it is.
Interlachen is fortunate in that our F&B team is made up of smart people who are incredibly talented. I give them credit; they manage a lot of moving parts.
C2C: What was one of the challenges you learned about that most surprised you?
ED: Most managers don’t have to manage a team of artists like a chef does. To get a full food-and-beverage team on the same page—and to earn buy-in from all parts, in both the front and back of the house—takes a high level of skill, as well as a high degree of leadership savvy.
C2C: Besides leadership, what other characteristics do you value in Chef Junge?
ED: He is willing to roll up his sleeves and do what he needs to do to get the job done. He also has a lot of passion for his craft and for food. And he’s an excellent judge of talent.
I appreciate that he has a whimsical side, too, and that makes his food fun and interesting, without being strange. He makes a deconstructed chicken pot pie that is out of this world.
He’s an artist, and the turning point in our relationship was when I told him that the club is a blank canvas. As long as he provides “Interlachen Excellence,” it’s up to him to paint the picture. He’s the expert, and he has my total support.
C2C: Does that relationship characterize your management style?
ED: Absolutely. It’s important to be collaborative and to give your team the freedom to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. At the same time, it’s important for them to know that you’re there to help and guide, as they need you, when they need you.
C2C: What types of people thrive on Interlachen’s culinary team?
ED: Those who are inquisitive and want to learn. And who have a passion for food.
C2C: You consider yourself a ‘lifelong learner.’ What does that mean?
ED: I believe my sense of curiosity is one of my biggest strengths. I’m on a never-ending road of learning. Every day is about reading or talking to people or learning from other businesses, industries or best practices. That will never end. And it’s a fundamental part of my management philosophy.
C2C: As you continue to learn, how do you foresee the club evolving?
ED: We support our team members in this industry. We have a successful internship program on the golf side. We’re continuing to expand that on the culinary, agronomy and clubhouse sides. My ultimate goal is to be a training site for bright, young professionals who come through hospitality and other programs. We want to turn them on to clubs and help them achieve their goals.
C2C: What are some of your goals specific to F&B?
ED: We want to be the restaurant of choice, while offering the most personalized experience in the Twin Cities. How? Well, we have to get to know our members better. We have to make sure we continue to hire the best and challenge those who know more than we do. We have to constantly push the envelope with our menus and our dishes, while listening to our members’ wants and needs.
For example, our members want more farm-to-table and responsibly sourced ingredients. In response, we offer events like our Farm-to-Fairway dinner, where we feature local ingredients, bring in the farmers who grew those ingredients, and host a big dinner on the golf course. It’s a highlight for members and staff, too.
Chef has also improved our sourcing, so that we are getting more local products for a la carte menus.
C2C: It sounds like you’ve made a lot of progress in just one year’s time. What’s next?
ED: We just got the results of our member survey, which revealed that our members are looking for upscale-casual adult dining. They also want a pub or bar atmosphere, much like the Rees Jones Grille at my former club, Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, Md. (“Strong and Vital Signs,” C&RB, December 2009).
Most clearly, they want an ultra-casual family dining space. The kind of place that welcomes kids in soccer uniforms.
We’re in the process of laying out what those venues will look like, and how we’ll incorporate them into the clubhouse. We hope to have that figured out quickly so we can begin rolling out some new things in the first quarter of this year.
C2C: If you could tell chefs one thing about club management, what would it be?
ED: Regardless of who your boss is, you have to find a way to create a thought partnership, like Chef Junge and I have. It needs to be a creative and stimulating relationship for both of you. Have fun together. Be creative together. Go to conferences and explore educational opportunities together.
And make it a passionate relationship.