The new owners of Glen Oaks CC not only saved the club from bankruptcy, but also injected much needed life—and capital—into the club’s dining operation.
If you asked Jeff Strahl, Executive Chef at Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines, Iowa, to tell you the story of dining at Glen Oaks, you’d be hard-pressed not to think of it as something of a Cinderella story.
“I came to the club seven years ago with a lot of benchmarks that I wanted to achieve,” he says. “We have a really good core of chefs here, but we had to get a better handle on both the business side of things as well as iron out some culinary basics. Over the years, we improved the menu, the quality of the food and the skill level of the staff, but the facility never saw any change, and was in dire need of a facelift.
Glen Oaks CC
Club Location: West Des Moines, Iowa
Unfortunately, the dining room’s desperately needed makeover was a long way off. In 2009, the club and the surrounding homeowners’ association defaulted on a $7.7 million loan. Ultimately, Glen Oaks went up for sale at a sheriff’s auction in April 2010 and a local bank purchased it for $5.25 million, after there were no other bids.
Throughout the reorganization, the club remained open for business.
“The chances of upgrading the facility, given the financial situation, were nonexistent,” says Strahl. The bank then brought in a management firm, Golf Resources Group (GRG), to help run the financially strapped property.
“When I came on board, the property was still owned by the bank, it lacked a true brand identity, and member—and staff—morale had reached rock bottom,” says Bill Kirkendall of GRG, who was brought on as General Manager.
Finally, Glen Oaks found its prince.
In October 2010, a group of local investors completed the purchase of the club from the bank for an undisclosed price. The new owners, all of whom live in the Glen Oaks community, came together to acquire the championship golf course and club earlier that summer.
Their common vision was to restore Glen Oaks to its original design, and make the club a profitable enterprise as well as an appealing venue for the entire community.
The ownership group decided that GRG would continue to run day-to-day operations and that Kirkendall would continue as General Manager, overseeing all aspects and operations of the club including membership.
“The new owners saw what a valuable asset this club is to its members and the community,” says Strahl. “They planned to maximize that potential by making appropriate investments to improve the club and make it more appealing.”
Turning a Pumpkin into a Carriage
Two of the first steps in optimizing the potential of Glen Oaks CC were a much-needed makeover for the first floor of the clubhouse, specifically the dining room, as well as some upgrades to the 18-hole championship course designed by Tom Fazio.
“The clubhouse was only 17 years old, but the facilities hadn’t been touched—not even painted—in that time. It was dark and dated and no one wanted to come to the club, despite the quality of our food and service,” says Kirkendall. “We only had one dining room to service all of our members.”
The new owners, along with Kirkendall and Strahl, worked with a designer to strategize how to reinvent the member dining experience.
“We lacked a true gathering point in our clubhouse,” says Strahl.
“We also had no mixed lounge or family dining components,” adds Kirkendall.
Ultimately, space-planning improvements were made, speaking to both member enjoyment and improved operational efficiency. Existing interior spaces were rearranged and right-sized into comfortable, connected spaces that have an engaging sense of flow and ease of transition.
The interior design enhancements reflect the contemporary lifestyles of a modern membership, with appropriate elements of style such as comfortable chairs, flat-screen televisions, well-placed lighting and many other rich appointments.
Looking to serve its members first, the renovation was done only on the first floor of Glen Oaks’ clubhouse, while member dining was temporarily moved upstairs into the banquet space.
“We are fortunate to have separate a la carte and banquet kitchens,” says Strahl. “There was no disruption to service during the renovation.”
Ultimately, the project cost $1.3 million dollars and took five months to complete. But when Glen Oaks CC reopened the first floor of its clubhouse, the glass slipper never fit so well.
Night at the Ball
The family dining room—also known as Bogey’s—features an extensive menu of inventive appetizers and small plates such as Wood-Fired Asiago Salmon, as well as hand-pressed pizzas, salads, spa cuisine (all dishes are under 400 calories), traditional club classics, and more forward-thinking culinary specialties such as Champagne Chicken (view entire menu here).
The bar and lounge area—also known as The Bunker—features a limited menu of small plates and other dishes geared toward sharing and relaxing. “Every week, we have live entertainment in The Bunker,” adds Strahl. “So the menu here is more relaxed and casual.”
The adult dining room—aka The Gallery—is Glen Oaks’ formal dining venue. The menu is more cultivated than in the family dining room, and the service is much more meticulous and upscale. “When we train our servers, we start them in the family dining room,” explains Strahl. “Only the best servers work in The Gallery, as the level of service can’t be compromised in that room.”
With three distinct dining operations for members to choose between, Glen Oaks has seen a surge in member usage.
“Our F&B sales are up 40%,” says Kirkendall. “We’ve also added 80 new members in just the past year.”
Managing the increased volume has certainly been a challenge, but Strahl keeps his staff motivated by having each chef prepare a special one night a week. “It’s become somewhat of a competition to see whose special will sell the most,” he says.
In addition, a new wood-fired oven that was added to Bogey’s has helped to supplement the volume of business, as well as open the lines of communication between the kitchen and the members.
“The wood oven has been a lifesaver,” says Strahl. “We do more than just pizza in it—we do fish, appetizers and breads, too. The flavor is unmatched, plus the pizza oven is right out in the open, so members can watch the action.”
Even though the F&B operation at Glen Oaks has come full circle, there are plenty of plans for the future.
“These changes have helped us to meet the needs and lifestyles of our membership,” says Kirkendall. “Our dining and lounge options have increased member and family usage, and given us tremendous tools to grow our membership.”
The club is also planning a second phase of renovation, which will include an extensive update to the banquet facilities, beginning in January.
For Strahl, the “happily ever after” is really just another beginning. “All of the pieces have come together,” he says. “Now, we can really push ourselves from a culinary perspective, and enhance the dining experience for our members.”
View Chef Strahl’s recipes for: