After years of doing a lot with a little, Executive Chef Richard Scully and staff are now making the most of two distinctive properties.
Woodway Country Club, in Darien, Conn., was founded in 1916 as one of the many private golf clubs established in the U.S. because of the game’s skyrocketing popularity at that time. In 1948, Woodway purchased the Shippan Beach Club, on Long Island Sound in nearby Stamford, Conn., to give members a second recreational option.
In 1988, The Beach Club underwent a $3 million renovation and in 1999, Woodway broke ground for a new $15 million clubhouse. Those were welcomed changes for Executive Chef Richard Scully, who has been at the helm of Woodway’s food operations since 1985.
Until he was rewarded with the new clubhouse, Richard had to work in an antiquated and cramped kitchen. But as someone with no formal culinary training who first developed his love of food and cooking while backpacking through Europe as a student in the 1970s, and then earned the grand sum of $18 a day for his first job as Garde Manger at San Francisco’s Hotel St. Francis, Scully has always learned to do a lot with a little.
Now, Chef Scully feels blessed with what he describes as “a gorgeous new facility with a wonderful kitchen with excellent storage, refrigeration, work space and equipment—and most significantly, a kitchen designed to be in the center of the clubhouse, so formal dining rooms, the tap room and the banquet hall all have dedicated access from it.” We appreciate Chef Scully taking time out, while planning for the season ahead, to share his insights on the keys to culinary success in a club environment.
Q Chef, looking back at 10 years after a huge and controversial construction project that affected every department at your club, what can you point to as the most positive benefits?
A Logistically, we now have a much larger facility and, of course, the ability to do multiple functions concurrently. So we now have more dollars coming in from banquets, and the percentages are considerably more profitable.
Some of the biggest benefits evolved after we developed experience with the new facility. The construction project was the result of years of planning, but after the new clubhouse opened to the membership, there was a sense the building was too vast and not sufficiently “clubby.” So after another few years, the membership decided to turn one of the more formal dining rooms into a pub. Now this pub is full most weekend evenings, and gives a very warm feel to the club.
Q Your Executive Sous Chef operates the kitchen at the Beach Club restaurant. How do you keep in touch with what goes on there, as well as at the main club property, while you are both encountering peak business periods?
A I am most fortunate to have the Beach Club chef on staff. He’s a highly motivated individual who operates with almost complete autonomy. While he has his own style of cooking, we have worked together long enough that he knows he has my complete support and confidence. We go over all menus together, but there will be days at a time where we will not see each other.
Q How do you see this year shaping up for catering revenue, which is a critical part to meeting budgeted food and labor cost percentages?
A December of last year was very tough. And with the exception of a couple of strong projected months, 2009 looks to be a little light on the catering side.
In past years, we would hire a considerable number of cooks and front-of-the-house staff from clubs in Florida. This season, we will try to get by with a little less staff, but we cannot skimp on service and quality of product—that would be absolutely the wrong way to go. It falls on my shoulders to be extra careful with regard to controlling overtime and making smart purchases.
Q Chef, you need to be open-minded and receptive to change to keep a membership happy for so long, especially in the New York metropolitan area, where so many food trends are set. Can you give us some tips on self-development that may help other chefs?
A Stay true to yourself. Do what you do, and do it well. Don’t be oblivious to current trends and by all means, keep attuned to what is new and exciting—especially where “healthier trends” are concerned. I am a firm believer in the idea of cooking trends being very cyclical in nature. Good, solid cooking will always be in style. Menu items that were strong 25 years ago will continue to generate interest—granted, with a little “updating” and a lighter touch now.
Q Can you also offer some advice in another area where you have been very successful: succession planning and promoting staff from within your organization?
A Surround yourself with good people. Make certain that their efforts are recognized and applauded. And learn to recognize talent from a variety of places; I have people working in the Woodway kitchens who started out as dishwashers years ago and are now in key positions.
But mostly, I would have to say that any success I have had in retaining staff is a result of the club membership itself. They are the ones who have made the conscious effort to provide an excellent compensation package, and to also ensure that all staff are treated with respect and dignity.
Q Over your 24 years at Woodway, what would you cite as the keys to sustaining member satisfaction and also to developing, and maintaining, your strong relationship with your General Manager, Sam Kadi?
A Everyone on my staff, myself included, is here at the membership’s discretion. I try to impress upon my crew that working here at Woodway is a privilege we have to earn every single day. By the same token, it is my responsibility to keep the membership aware of the vast talents and dedication of the kitchen brigade.
My working relation with the General Manager is built on respect. I try to make Sam aware immediately of any problems that have come up, and I seek his advice on finding the proper solutions.