A ‘culture of hospitality’

Chef Tony Vasquez flambés shrimp in the Yacht Club kitchen.

As 2017 comes to a close, Andy Fox, AWE Hospitality president, is looking back on the year as a positive one for the Tellico Village Property Owners Association’s four restaurants.

“I mean every restaurant’s different,” Fox said. “We have a huge new demographic, quite a few people who are continually moving into the Village. That’s bringing more active spenders, bringing more active folks. They’re playing more golf. The golf groups are pretty much at record numbers. The dock slips are finally all getting rented out. They had, I don’t know, 75 empty slips and now they’re all starting to get rented. I know Simon (Bradbury, POA recreation director) over at the Wellness Center has been getting his — memberships have been picking up. It’s no different at the restaurants.

“... There was more activity in the Village with all the new folks coming in and they’re more capable of and more wanting to get out,” he added.

Sales were up “considerably,” notably at the Yacht Club, Tanasi and Kahite with improvements over last year of more than 10 percent, 15 percent and 30 percent, respectively, Fox said. Toqua stayed about even, but Fox believes that could change if a new Toqua clubhouse is built.

“Our subsidies are going down very nicely,” Tom Lee, POA board member, said. “Our goal is make all our restaurants self-sufficient and we’re almost there. The only one that probably won’t be self-sufficient is Kahite. We’ve got a management contract with AWE on Kahite and our population is so small there, but it’s a vital part of our restaurant operations because we can service our golfers plus (the) need to provide some food and beverage opportunities for our residents in Kahite.”

Despite still taking “some decent losses,” Fox said improvements have been made since AWE Hospitality took over Kahite in January.

“Obviously we had some transitional issues the first three to four months, which you’re going to have with taking over any restaurant, no different than anything,” Fox said. “You figure out your staffing, figure out what you think your guests want, and how do we retool the menu, and how do we create an environment that folks want? Over the last few years the POA’s been running it sort of bare bones, just doing the basics, so we kind of got in there for three or four months and we said, ‘OK, let’s get our feet wet and let’s figure this out.’ So after three months we changed the menu.

“After three months we had replaced pretty much the entire team except for one person,” he added. “Trying to create a new culture of hospitality.”

Bruce Johnson, POA board president, said the goal is for each restaurant to provide something fresh for Villagers so they won’t need to leave the area.

“What we’re trying to do is we have restaurants at all of our golf courses and we have the Yacht Club,” Johnson said. “What we’d like to do is we would like to have none of our restaurants competing with each other. We would like each restaurant more or less to serve a given clientele, and so what we would like to see when we build Toqua clubhouse we would like the theme there to be different there obviously than Tanasi and the Yacht Club as well as down in Kahite.”

Adjusting with the Village

Fox believes business has gone well this year at least partly because of the ability to get people through the doors for different reasons, whether it be for musical entertainment or even a friendly game of Bingo.

“We get the opera here a couple of times, we had the symphony here, different styles of tiki bars, karaoke, Bingo — I mean you name it and we’re trying it,” Fox said. “Every time we try something we have a group that doesn’t understand why we’re doing it, but we have a group that wants to do it, and as long as we’re — if we can do Bingo and pull 100 people and we make a 100 people happy then it’s a successful night for us even though there’s some going, ‘Bingo? We’re not an old age home.’ It’s like, ‘Well wait a second. If you don’t want to do it, don’t come,’ but there is a group of folks.”

Fox’s crew hasn’t shied away from making changes when needed, including menu alterations at Tanasi and the Yacht Club.

“Especially now with the growth in the Village, it’s an ever-evolving demographic,” Fox said. “So we constantly have new people coming into the Village. Everybody has their own wants, needs, opinions, so we try to listen to as much as we can and we try to keep challenging ourselves to raise the participation levels in the Village. ... We are supposed to be as much to as many people as we possibly can. That’s our goal. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily fit our exact focus, but if it’s something that the Village wants and calls for then we’re all open to doing whatever.”

Lee believes staying active can only be a good thing for the restaurants.

“Forget the sales, forget the cost factor,” Fox said. “No. 1 is to try and make each year have more Villagers utilize the properties and make them happier. That is first and foremost.”