To avoid turning away hungry diners, Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club in Menlo Park, Calif., added the Smokehouse Grill, offering grapevine-smoked entrees.
For Michael Nakahara, Assistant General Manager/Executive Chef at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club, Menlo Park, Calif., having a popular venue can be a double-edged sword—especially when summer’s good weather and leisurely pace can bring big waves of impromptu dining decisions. This can be especially problematic for a kitchen like Nakahara’s, where everything is prepared a la minute.
So when Sharon Heights began to have as many as 120 walk-ins on summer Sunday nights, on top of a full slate of reservations, Nakahara needed to redirect the crowds. “We’re fortunate to have this ‘problem,’ but when the amount of business starts to affect our ability to serve the highest-quality fare, something needs to change,” he says. “When we would get too slammed, we would regrettably have to turn members away.”
Instead of losing that potential revenue, Sharon Heights, which did $4.4 million in total F&B last year, created a new, casual outdoor dining option for Sunday nights in the summer that cost little to create while alleviating the stress on the clubhouse kitchen and supporting the club’s family-golf program.
Thus, the Smokehouse Grill was born at the club’s Turn Shack, featuring signature grapevine-smoked entrees, finished on a mesquite grill, that can be served either at outdoor tables, poolside, or to-go.
“Our Turn Shack is pretty well-equipped,” says Nakahara. “But the bulk of the prep for the grill can be done in advance of service, which makes it an easy operation to run, without the need for additional staffing.”
To prepare for the new Sunday offer, Nakahara cold-smoked chicken, salmon and two portioned salads with chardonnay grapevines in the club’s kitchen the day before, and put it all in a speed rack wrapped with plastic wrap. He also cold-smoked brisket, baby back ribs and a house-made Wagyu burger with cabernet grapevines in a similar fashion.
Doing most of the cooking this way, during service Nakahara could simply finish and rewarm items as they were ordered, while grilling ears of organic corn and other vegetables. “Since everything was cooked, all I had to do was warm it on the grill, add our house-made barbecue sauce, and plate it,” he says.
The Smokehouse menu, while simple and succinct, was clearly displayed on a board at the Turn Shack, and members were encouraged to pick and choose the sides they wanted. Much like the proteins, sides were also pre-prepared in the clubhouse; they included honey-lime coleslaw, buttermilk mashed potatoes, homemade baked beans with bacon, green apples and molasses, grilled vegetables, steak-cut fries tossed with smoked sea salt, and sliced garden tomatoes.
“We also offered four different pies [apple, mixed berry, banana cream and chocolate cream] as well as three different flavors of ice cream [vanilla, chocolate and strawberry],” says Nakahara. “And we kept the price points low, which really appealed to families.” (Proteins and portioned salads were $8.95, sides were $1.95 and desserts were $4.95.)
“It was hugely popular with members, either to dine at the club or as a take-out option,” says Nakahara. “Nearly 50% of our business at the Grill was take-out.”
The Smokehouse Grill not only increased Turn Shack sales by 13%, it drew in 8% of members who didn’t normally dine at the club on Sunday nights. Nakahara will expand on its success this year, adding pizza and a make-your-own sundae bar.