The National Democratic Club’s dining program benefits from having a dynamic, idea-driven duo at its helm.
Located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just blocks from Congressional office buildings, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court, The National Democratic Club (NDC) serves a unique membership base, including White House officials, members of the United States House of Representatives and Senate, and national leaders in business and industry.
Thanks to a lifelong career in both back- and front-of-house operations, NDC’s Officer & Assistant General Manager, Marlena Navarro, is especially equipped to continually meet members’ changing needs, while working closely alongside the club’s Executive Chef, Troy Jackson.
C+RC: What’s it like working at NDC?
MN: When you’re in our nation’s capital, it isn’t difficult to find yourself dealing with politics in one form or another. Although our name has “Democratic” in it, we serve every member with the utmost respect regardless of party affiliation.
C+RC: Give us a snapshot of NDC’s dining profile.
MN: NDC has 1,500 members and we serve lunch and dinner Monday through Friday from 11:30am to 7pm. We have one main dining room and two smaller banquet areas in the clubhouse. We do $1 million in annual F&B with a 60/40 split between a la carte and banquet.
Our business is heavily determined by the Congressional schedule. When Congress isn’t in session, on average, we do about 60 to 100 covers a day. When Congress is in session, we can easily do 200 to 250 covers.
C+RC: When you came to the club in 2015, what was your first impression of the culinary program?
MN: It was outdated. Our cooks have always made a delicious product, but the menus had been the same for easily a decade, with slight changes of no true notice. That was when I brought my fine-dining experience to the table and began the overhaul.
C+RC: What was your first impression of Chef Jackson?
MN: Chef and I both started here in lower positions than where we are today. When I began at NDC, I was the Member Services & Events Manager, and he was a union cook. He started in December of 2004 and when I joined in January 2015, I knew I was in for quite a ride. Chef is a very passionate, hard-working, honest man with a personality like no other. He is extremely charismatic, talented and dependable.
When our previous Chef left NDC towards the end of 2015, Chef Jackson was absolutely the perfect person to take on that role.
C+RC: What have been some of the biggest changes you and Chef Jackson have brought to NDC?
MN: We’ve rolled out everything from new bar menus to new refrigerators—and everything in between.
In January of this year, we started a completely new menu with a different format and upgraded items. We cancelled the entire banquet menu program and created new options from scratch. We completely changed our smallwares, from new plates and silver down to candle holders and tea boxes. We changed the interior of the club with new paint colors, custom murals, new tables, chairs and light fixtures.
C+RC: What will you change next?
MN: I’d like to do a patio renovation, replace the line in the kitchen, upgrade the walk-in refrigerators and get air-conditioning for the back of house. My long-term goal is to be competitive in not only the club industry, but in the local restaurant scene.
C+RC: What skills do you value most in Chef Jackson?
MN: I cherish his gift of gab. Chef can absolutely communicate with his cooking, but the way he speaks is nothing short of special. He has perseverance and motivation for the things he is passionate about. He is excellent at teamwork and has complete confidence. But one key skill I value most is his honesty.
C+RC: Why is the dynamic between the two of you important to the success of the operation?
MN: Our club seems to be a unicorn of sorts as a city club and dining-only facility, with limited real estate and a union staff. We have to be creative in ways that other clubs might not have to be. With ideas coming from all areas, unity is a must. Chef and I stand united regardless of the obstacles we face. Together we are able to accomplish whatever we set out to do.
C+RC: What has been your role in the club’s response to COVID-19?
MN: My role has varied from navigating the new laws in place and developing business strategies to emotional support of my staff and membership. Whether I’m coming up with a new budget to be sure we stay operational or filing our unemployment paperwork, I am wherever my club needs me to be without hesitation.