Park CC’s General Manager/COO, Brad Pollak, CCM, CCE, believes supporting and inspiring team members, regardless of tenure, will lead to consistent growth.
Park Country Club in Williamsville, N.Y. (see “How Park CC Builds On Its Grand Tradition,” Club + Resort Business, April 2018) has an active food-and-beverage program. With 550 members, the club does more than $3.6 million in annual F&B, with a 60/40 split between a la carte and banquet.
Brad Pollak, CCM, CCE, has served as Park CC’s GM/COO for the past decade and has been steadfast in supporting the growth and evolution of the club’s culinary program. In May, Pollak (who retired at the end of October, after more than 40 years in club management) was tasked with finding Park CC’s next Executive Chef, to help ensure continued progress and a graceful transition for the club’s F&B program into the coming decade.
C+RC: How did you begin the search for a new Executive Chef?
Brad Pollak (BP): We contracted an industry-specific search firm and were very clear about our goals and what we wanted in a new chef. The listing was very detailed.
C+RC: Can you sum it up for us?
BP: We wanted a talented culinary professional who would work well with the current team and implement new standards and programs that would increase member satisfaction. Food quality, consistency, menu variety and speed of service were key areas of focus. We also wanted someone committed to excellence.
C+RC: Tell us about the interviews.
BP: As is the case in most clubs, we had our candidates meet with all of our key managers, to get a better understanding of Park’s culture and operation. If they made it past that round, we had them do a tasting for a committee with the sous chefs they would inherit.
C+RC: Why were these steps especially important?
BP: I’ve seen plenty of clubs lure chefs, only to then set unrealistic goals that were nearly impossible to achieve. I’ve also seen clubs evade a lot of truths about their operation. We made sure there were no surprises in the interview or the orientation process. We wanted the chef to understand exactly what he or she would be signing up for, and what would be expected.
C+RC: It all led to you hiring Michael Sturgis, who was previously Executive Sous Chef of The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.). What made him stand out?
BP: His experience, his level of talent and his time working with Executive Chef Edward Leonard, CMC, were very impressive. He was quick to understand our culture, too.
C+RC: What was his orientation like?
BP: We had [Chef] Sturgis spend a good amount of time with all key department heads, so he could better understand who was responsible for what and for how he, as Executive Chef, would interface with these people. This allowed him to learn about their struggles and see the bigger picture. We also gave him plenty of time to observe the F&B operation and meet members.
C+RC: What happened next?
BP: We gave him three main goals. 1.) Evaluate the culinary program and the team members. 2.) Restore consistency in a la carte. 3.) Reduce the club’s F&B loss by $100,000.
[Editor’s Note: Park CC subsidized F&B by $529,728 in its most recent fiscal year.]
C+RC: Is it going well so far?
BP: Extremely. Since day one, I think [Chef] Sturgis has viewed Park CC as an opportunity where he can have a profound impact.
C+RC: What makes Park CC’s culinary program unique?
BP: In a world where so many clubs are looking to tear down and rebuild to be new and trendy, we aren’t. We have an old, castle-like clubhouse that will never be renovated to be “modern.” Because of that, no one can replicate what we have here. [Chef] Sturgis is hyper-aware of our unique situation and has come up with creative ideas and solutions to use the space we have to the fullest.
C+RC: What’s his best dish?
BP: The other night he ran a clam special that was out of this world. Actually, all of his seafood is outstanding. So is his Italian. And his Southwestern cuisine, too. He’s also really great with action stations. And farm-to-table…
C+RC: What do you respect most about Chef Sturgis?
BP: He’s willing to listen to me. I know just enough to be dangerous! He takes feedback constructively and he’s even-keeled. He’s confident and a strong leader. He’s great at listening to members and to his team, too. He’s an excellent team player, and one of the best culinarians in our industry.