Two months into bartending for the Country Club of Buffalo (CCB), Nick Markel, CCM, CCE, changed his college major from art to hospitality.
“I fell in love with this industry,” he says. “[Since then], I’ve always dreamed of returning to CCB.”
Nearly 20 years and several prominent posts later, Markel returned to the club as General Manager and Chief Operating Officer.
The Country Club of Buffalo, based in Williamsville, N.Y., has 505 members and does about $2 million in annual food-and-beverage revenue.
Markel says the club’s tight-knit community and family-centric environment make it special: “Many clubs say that, but I don’t know how many hold true to that value as closely as CCB does.”
This also attracted Executive Chef Joe Piazza, CEC, AAC, CCA, says Markel, and is what makes the two an ideal pairing.
“Chef [Piazza] is from Rochester, and his wife is from Corning—both close to Buffalo,” notes Markel. “He chose to come to CCB to be near their families. That says something about his values that I appreciate.”
Club + Resort Chef (C+RC): How would you describe CCB’s food-and-beverage operation?
Nick Markel (NM): We have one main dining site year-round, The Terrace, with doors that open to the elements on beautiful spring and fall nights. We also open a separate, outdoor dining facility called The First Tee during summer. Then we have our halfway house and our pool snack bar.
Chef Joe [Piazza] is wonderful. As a club with a smaller membership, we’re able to personalize each dining experience. Chef and his team go out of their way to make members happy.
For example, one of our members loves pork chops. We don’t always have a pork chop on the menu, but we always have pork chops in the fridge ready for her whenever she cares for one.
C+RC: What is Chef Piazza best known for as a culinarian?
NM: He is incredibly talented, and he’s had an amazing career at several prominent clubs.
From a staff perspective, he’s known for having a steady hand and is great at mentoring young culinarians. From a membership perspective, he’s known for consistently excellent food and creativity.
He’s always looking to push the envelope and try new concepts. To mix it up for the membership for the next six weeks, he’s running a pop-up restaurant in our main dining room: a northern Italian steakhouse theme with choose-your-own charcuterie boards and wine flights.
We’ve done pop-ups for the past three years. The past two have been the Italian concept. The year prior was contemporary American small plates. [Piazza] always knocks it out of the park.
C+RC: How else has the F&B program evolved since Chef started?
NM: One of the biggest changes was the shift to monthly menu changes. That was a phenomenal upgrade for the members, who spend a lot of time at the club. We have to keep things fresh, which Chef is committed to.
The culinary team does a wonderful job coming up with new events. One of the things that came out of COVID was our Twilight series: a series of menus paired with wines and served on our North Lawn area, open to a limited group of members. It’s very popular. We run three or four through the summer; they always sell out.
We just completed a $1.2 million kitchen renovation. We added space for chef’s tables, about 10-12 per year, as part of the renovation. We call it Table 101, and it is an outstanding culinary experience that our members can’t get anywhere else—and an opportunity for Chef [Piazza] to showcase his talents.
C+RC: What were the primary goals of the remodel?
NM: We had an aging kitchen that needed an upgrade. [Changes included] new flooring, wall coverings and new equipment.
I’m especially proud of the board for approving additions to the original budget that allowed us to choose [more ergonomic] flooring. We also added a DOAS (dedicated outdoor air system) unit that maintains an environment in the kitchen of around 75°F.
[Piazza] did a great job managing that project. My role was shepherding the project through: getting a successful vote from the membership, getting that funding and supporting him through the construction process to make sure everything was going according to plan and that he was happy with it.
At CCB, we want all department heads to have the autonomy to run their programs as they see fit. I’m not an expert in anything, but I do my best to give each leader the necessary resources and support.