Lauderdale YC’s GM shares insights into how the club’s food-and-beverage program is changing with the opening of a new clubhouse and the addition of a new chef.
Nadine D. Rockwell, CCM, General Manager of Lauderdale Yacht Club (LYC) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is savvy about the ins and outs of food-and-beverage programs within the club world.
Rockwell, who has been in the industry for all of her professional life and is a second-generation club manager, gained this familiarity by working through every position in the clubhouse, starting as a dishwasher and moving up the ranks. She has been with LYC since 2015.
Over the past few years, Rockwell has led the charge to rebuild LYC’s clubhouse and also bring in a new Executive Chef.
C+RC: What brought you to Lauderdale Yacht Club?
ND: Three years prior to coming, I was in Orlando for a Club Management Association of America conference and we toured the club. I told my husband, who is an Executive Chef, that if the opportunity ever presented itself, I could see myself working there. When the job posting went up, I applied and we relocated.
C+RC: What was the F&B operation like when you first came onboard?
ND: It was professional, but it was time to evolve with the desires of the membership. It needed that “wow” factor, to be more on-trend, and an infusion of creativity.
C+RC: What makes a club dining program successful?
ND: Consistency, creativity, seasonality and doing simple regional cuisine well. Many of our members dine here two or three days a week for lunch, and again two or three times a week for dinner. We have to offer interesting specials that showcase local ingredients. We also have to offer a healthy balance of new, trendy dishes and club classics.
C+RC: What changes were made to the kitchen as part of the renovation?
ND: We have a new galley kitchen with a pizza oven and built-in action stations with induction cooking units. It’s right off the family dining space and we’re hoping to use it for cooking classes and family activities. We also built a satellite kitchen that will serve our new bar.
C+RC: Was anything done to the main kitchen?
ND: In 2014, the club did a $5.65 million kitchen renovation, so the new clubhouse was actually rebuilt around the main kitchen.
C+RC: What about in the front of house?
ND: Each dining space will now have its own identity. We’ll have the Cypress Room, which will feature club classics with a steakhouse feel. The Cove will be family-oriented with a variety menu. And the new Burgee Bar upstairs will have a casual theme and a menu focused on small plates. We will also have a beautiful wine room and the Abenaki lounge, which will serve speciality cocktails and dessert.[View interior renderings here.]
C+RC: Have you maintained dining during the renovation?
ND: Yes, we’ve actually been in a fancy tent with glass walls and a big deck. The members love the wide-open space and many have said they don’t want it to come down!
C+RC: In addition to the renovation, you also led the search for a new chef. What were you looking for?
ND: We wanted a chef who could lead the brigade while focusing on innovation and organization. We needed a visionary who is passionate about the craft and understands what is important to our members. We wanted someone who would enhance the program in different ways—bringing in more fresh, local seafood, and creating new programming to help us grow out of this environment and into a new clubhouse. We wanted someone who could help us grow from a $3.9 million F&B operation into a $5 million F&B operation.
C+RC: Did you have much interest in the position when you posted it?
ND: We used an executive search firm and had over 250 chefs apply. The committee narrowed it down to 65, then 12 and 4. Finally, we had two chefs come in for a tasting. Andy Papson was offered the position and the rest is history.
C+RC: What made him stand out?
ND: His interpretation of food and his overall outlook. He also dialed in to the vision of our committee and very quickly understood what members were looking for.
C+RC: He’s been with the club for only a few months. How’s it going?
ND: It’s been full speed ahead. But Chef has acclimated beautifully. He’s still working to understand what makes our membership unique, but he’s been wonderful about building the team, menu writing and training—all in the wake of a pandemic and the opening of a new clubhouse.
C+RC: What do you value most about Chef Papson?
ND: The partnership we’ve formed and his tenacity. He understands that success comes from creating and nurturing a team, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done well.
C+RC: What advice would you offer other GMs who are building new relationships with their chef?
ND: Communicate! And be sure to share the nuances of your membership with your chef—especially now. It’s hard enough to learn the preferences of 1,000 members in a normal year, but when you add in social distancing, reduced numbers and all the other challenges, you—the GM—have to communicate and then over-communicate the needs, wants and strategies.