Interlachen CC’s leadership team is focused on planning, growing, conquering complexity and further establishing its culinary expertise.
Club culinary programs have to innovate to be successful—but the magnitude of change, and the speed at which a club is able to set new ideas in motion, can vary greatly. Success is achieved when leaders are focused, collaborative and driven by the same desire to create a member experience that is nothing short of exceptional.
Over the past four years, Interlachen Country Club (Edina, Minn.) has been on a transformative culinary journey. It began when Joel Livingood, General Manager/CEO, hired a strong new Executive Chef in Aaron Anderson, who then leveraged the club’s $10.5 million campus-wide renovation and worked with Assistant General Manager Carrie Eyler to change everything about how the club defines and delivers its culinary experience.
As part of a campus-wide renovation, Interlachen made significant changes to its dining spaces and programs. Each restaurant was given its own unique identity, with the overarching goal of creating destination-type outlets with menus to match.
The club’s flagship restaurant, the Bobby Jones Pub & Grille, saw the greatest change, both physically and conceptually. The dining room was artfully redesigned with rich wood accents and exposed beams. Iron chandeliers hang from the soaring ceilings of the 100-year-old building (see photo, pg. 66).
Members can also enjoy outdoor seating on a newly added, sizable Bobby Jones Terrace that overlooks the golf course.
The Pub & Grille’s menu offers a simple and refreshing approach to cuisine that changes seasonally and is chef-forward.
“Every component of this restaurant was thoughtfully considered,” says Livingood. “Each element of the dining experience, from the moment a member or guest arrives to the moment they depart, feels connected and intentional. Our goal was to create an experience that rivaled the best restaurants in the Twin Cities.”
As part of the new concept, leadership decided to have servers don jeans and white shirts, instead of the more traditional black slacks and black button-down shirts.
“A week before opening, I asked [Eyler] if jeans were still a good idea,” says Livingood. “She reminded me that we were trying to create a warm, casual, inviting atmosphere and our team’s uniforms were a part of that.”
In the concept phase, Eyler, Anderson and Livingood noted that the best restaurants in Minneapolis—even those that have won James Beard Awards—have servers who wear jeans. So they went for it.
“Overall, it was well-received by our members and a welcome change by our team,” says Livingood, adding that the Bobby Jones Pub & Grill continues to be the club’s busiest member-dining space.
Lay of the Land
The main kitchen that serves the Bobby Jones venue is divided into smaller spaces—and, as part of the renovation, it got a brand-new line with new equipment and better flow.
As part of the second phase of its renovation, which focused on the lower level of the clubhouse, the club created the Founders Café and Turn Bar as a casual, quick service-style dining option. A garde manger space in the back of the main kitchen acts as a commissary for serving this outlet and the pool.
At Founders, members can choose from a variety of sandwiches, salads, snacks and smoothies. The space is also a full-service bar and coffee shop.
Last, but certainly not least—especially during Midwestern heat waves—the 1909 Pool Cabana offers casual and fresh poolside dining. Members can choose to receive food-and-beverage service from their lounge chairs or be seated on the Cabana’s upper deck. The venue also features a separate bar with a shaded lounge area.
In addition to the three permanent outlets, the club’s lawn space is transformed into “The Snow Yard” in the winter and “Burgers and Brews” in the summer. The Snow Yard includes cozy seating in 10 igloos and offers Gesino’s Pizza, a New Haven-style pie created by Interlachen’s Sous Chef, Joshua Gesino. The menu at Burgers and Brews includes five signature burgers, hand-cut fries, homemade ice cream sandwiches, and features a different local brewery each week.
“All told, our members now have four or five different restaurants to choose from at different times of the year, based on how they want to enjoy their club,” says Livingood. “There’s been a ton of ingredients in our success. While our renovated spaces provided a platform to create these experiences, our team is the secret to our success. Everything we do, we do at the highest level—and it starts with them.”
Path to Success
Interlachen’s cover counts are up 48% over the last two years. Sales are up nearly $2 million, from $3 million to $4.75 million, and the club’s Net Promoter Score is currently 82, up from 17.
Livingood credits Eyler and Anderson with being the creative masterminds who have led this incredible success and growth.
Anderson came to the club six months before the renovations were complete, having previously served as Executive Chef of Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
Eyler, on the other hand, came to Interlachen, and the club business, after years in the theater.
“You’d be surprised to learn how much similarity there is between the performing-arts world and the club world,” she says. “In both cases, we are charged with creating an experience, and with doing all of the little things correctly to bring the big things to life.”
After cold-calling Interlachen’s previous GM and landing an interview, Eyler expressed her passion for people and for creating experiences and building a community. She landed a gig as a hostess and in that role, she built relationships with members, dining-room managers, servers and the back-of-house staff.
Each subsequent season, she was promoted. She then dabbled in membership, ultimately serving as Membership Director for three years. In this role, she learned the ins and outs of member events and banquets. One summer, she even worked as a pro shop assistant, to improve her golf acumen.
“I wanted to learn every aspect of the club that I could, so I could make myself a more valuable team member,” she says.
In January 2018, Eyler was promoted to AGM, and has since been laser-focused on service and team-building.
The Guiding Principle
“We always strive to find a path to ‘yes,’” says Eyler. “That mantra guides everything we do. We warmly welcome our members and send them off with a fond farewell. We anticipate their needs and are creative in finding solutions.”
When she served as a hostess, Eyler saw glimpses of this future within the staff. “But we needed more horsepower,” she says. “There were individuals on the team that had that service mentality, but we weren’t capable of delivering it at the time.”
Now, armed with a stronger team and plenty of support from the heart of the house, Interlachen is able to crank the wheel fast enough to see positive dividends.
“Chef, myself, our GM and our Director of Member Dining, Alyssa Smith, represent the core of our team,” says Eyler. “Training is central to what we do. We are always looking to identify individuals with the aptitude and desire to grow, and we develop them to set them on a path for career success.”
As part of this process, Interlachen’s leadership encourages managers to run equal parts defense and offense.
“We want our managers on the floor as active participants in the experience, but we also ask them to think ahead and strategize how we can continue to be successful long-term,” says Eyler.
Transforming Taco Tuesday
When Anderson joined the team, he was reluctant to run the same prolific theme nights and buffets in the manner that they are often presented in clubs.
“Chef [Anderson] challenged our team to think about traditional club events in a different way, more consistent with our focus on delivering restaurant-quality dining experiences. We have a taco night but it’s more like dining at your favorite Mexican cantina,” says Livingood.
Interlachen’s team goes all-in on the theme. They’ve even created a dedicated brand: Tacos & Tequila.
Interlachen’s variation involves clearing the back bar and filling it with several different types of tequila for a high-end, build-your-own margarita menu. Servers wear custom shirts with the Tacos & Tequila logo on the back, and the menu features authentic dishes. Five different tacos—a chef’s taco that changes weekly, a pork carnitas taco, a green chicken chorizo taco, a short-rib barbacoa taco and a tortilla-crusted walleye taco (pictured above)—are also offered.
For Anderson, “club food” are dirty words.
“We can keep traditions alive without offering a menu with thirty entrees,” he says. “As club chefs, the charge falls squarely on our shoulders to create concepts that are exciting and innovative. We have to be more creative.”
Take Minnesota walleye, for example. Livingood told Anderson when he came on board that walleye is a menu must-have at Interlachen. Anderson translated that into a seasonal walleye special featuring different components, accompaniments and techniques.
“Our menu is hyper-seasonal,” says Anderson. “It changes every three weeks, so we can truly capture the best of what’s in season.
“Members who dine with us a few times a week always get to try something new and exciting, too,” he adds. “Our menus are tight, so when we make a change, we’re only really swapping four or five dishes. It’s less daunting for the staff and more exciting for the members, and it gives us a chance to source the best ingredients at the best time.”
This philosophy doesn’t mean Interlachen doesn’t serve burgers and chicken tenders. Quite the opposite. Their mantra—”always find a path to yes”—applies to the back of house, too.
Off-menu items and special requests are a perk of membership. As for the traditional club favorites, Anderson and his team take the same care for those dishes as they do weekly specials, maintaining their commitment to utilizing the highest quality ingredients.
“Having worked in both restaurants and clubs, the transition from restaurant to club can be challenging,” says Anderson. “I am fortunate to be surrounded by a passionate group of culinarians who have embraced the environment and our philosophy—and I have also learned a lot from them.”