If you’re looking for a jolt of F&B inspiration, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Dallas’ Northwood Club.
For starters, Northwood completed a total renovation of its clubhouse’s lower level this fall, which included updates to the men’s grill and the kitchen, as well as the addition of a wine room with members’ wine lockers. As part of the new space, a new menu was created that focuses on more modern, casual applications and small plates.
Beyond the brick and mortar, Northwood also has a dynamic executive team flush with kitchen know-how. At the helm is John McGee, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer, who spent nearly two decades as a chef and F&B director with Marriott Hotels before transitioning into club management.
After eight years as Clubhouse Manager for Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club in Menlo Park, Calif., McGee served as Northwood’s Assistant Manager for two years before succeeding Bob Leenhouts, who retired earlier this year.
Alongside McGee is the club’s Executive Chef, Michael Scott, a member of the World Master Chef Society and the American Academy of Chefs® Honor Society. Rounding out Northwood’s epicurean line-up is Matthew Crowe, a former executive sous and pastry chef, who is now Director of Catering.
“We have a pretty unique executive team when you add up all of our chef experience,” says McGee, who shared some insights into both his personal success, and Northwood’s, with C&RB’s Chef to Chef. “We think a lot about food and the role it plays in our club’s success.”
C2C: When did you become a chef?
JM: In 1980, I started working with Marriott Hotels as a line cook. At the time, they only had about 45 properties in their portfolio. As a cook, I learned the value of hard work and the satisfaction that goes along with a job well done. I moved up the ranks pretty quickly. In 1984, I was the youngest executive chef in the whole corporation. Around the same time, the company went through a huge period of growth and I ended up getting involved in opening F&B operations at new Marriott properties.
C2C: What was that experience like?
JM: It takes a ton of work, and you either love it or you hate it. Fortunately for me, I loved the excitement of starting something new. People thought I was crazy. I opened five hotels with Marriott. It was chaotic and hectic and there were always kinks to iron out, but I think those experiences helped to shape me into a better club manager.
C2C: How so?
JM: When you start to compare a GM position and a chef position, you see a lot of correlations with respect to people management. As a chef and F&B director, I had the opportunity to hire dozens of employees across the country. But beyond hiring them, I also had to train, support and inspire them to do their jobs to the best of their ability. That’s a big part of what I still do as a GM.
C2C: So how did you transition out of the kitchen and into club management?
JM: After working at more than 10 properties throughout the U.S., Latin America and South America for Marriott, I wanted something more stationary. I had a young family at the time and we were ready to settle down. There was an opening for a clubhouse manager at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club (Menlo Park, Calif.), so I applied.
C2C: After eight years with Sharon Heights G&CC, why did you decide to leave?
JM: I knew and admired Northwood’s GM, Bob Leenhouts. Plus, I was ready for a new challenge. I had heard about the renovations and additions Northwood had planned, and I craved a little of that “opening” excitement from my early days.
C2C: As part of those renovations, you recently finished an extensive redo of the lower level of your clubhouse. Can you tell us about the wine room you built?
JM: Most club wine rooms are used sparingly, at best. We wanted a space that would be more functional and less formal. So we added elements and programming that would allow for an interactive food-and-beverage experience.
JM: For example, we installed a television in the space that broadcasts Apple TV. When we’re doing a tasting or a pairing and we want to talk about food from Greece or wines from Spain, we have a multi-media option to support the event.
C2C: You also renovated the entire kitchen, right?
JM: We did. In the club world, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to redo a kitchen— but since we were doing a complete renovation of the entire lower level, we were able to include it.
The space now has a better layout and is much more functional for the needs of our menu and membership. And, with so many F&B-minded people on the team, we were all able to contribute to creating a space that would help service the exact needs of the membership.
C2C: How will these renovations affect your overall F&B operation?
JM: They will allow us to further define and refine our culinary style, while taking it to the next level.