In the last few months, the Yacht Club has seen a couple changes in leadership, including the addition of a new general manager and executive chef, both of whom say they are working together to create new ideas for patrons of the Blue Heron restaurant and event center.
General Manager Skyler McClurkin brings 13 years of managerial experience after most recently working as the general manager for Brixx Wood Fired Pizza in Knoxville. He previously worked as an assistant manager at Connor Concepts, which operates The Chop House and Connors Steak & Seafood.
“I definitely want to build sales, and I’ve heard some of the Villagers — there’s a negative rap with some of the Villagers about the Yacht Club, with the service being terrible and the food being mediocre,” McClurkin said. “I want to bring the Villagers back. I’ve probably had a handful of guests who haven’t been here in over a year. It’s a definite 360. I will do it one Villager at a time.”
McClurkin said he is focused on changing the negative culture.
“I’m not telling the guests ‘no’,” he said. “I will do whatever I can do in my power to make the guests happy. That’s the biggest feedback I’ve heard. The previous management got in this negative funk. I think they got sidetracked with what the hospitality industry is all about, and that’s taking care of your guests.”
Bill Minkert, the Yacht’s Club new executive chef, has 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, cooking for country clubs and developing menus for restaurants like Romano’s Macaroni Grill, along with serving as corporate chef for Stoney River Steakhouse and Grill.
Minkert said he wants residents to take advantage of the Yacht Club’s unique fine dining experience.
He said one of his main goals was “just to put this place on the map.”
“Instead of the Village clientele, I’d also like to see some of the private corporations enjoy what we have to offer,” he said.
Currently, about 80 percent of the Yacht Club’s visitors are Tellico Village residents.
McClurkin said he would like to see a 20 percent increase in customers from outside the Village.
“Dinner is an experience, and it’s entertainment,” Minkert said. “You’re going out to have a meal, yes, but also to enjoy the ambiance. It’s a whole event. Instead of sitting down to eat for one hour and rushing off to what’s next, make it three hours of your time and enjoy the wines, enjoy your family and enjoy your partner.
“The European style is to sit down and enjoy your meal with family,” he added. “Our family values have sort of changed recently.”
With so many demands in the hospitality industry, McClurkin prevents burn out by consistently challenging himself to improve operations and come up with creative ways to serve customers.
“The chef and I are always coming up with — we’re always thinking of our next dinner feature,” he said. “We’re always thinking what can we do different that we didn’t do last week. We almost have an event here every weekend, so the weekends are not boring.”
McClurkin and Minkert are working on planning a new dinner dish, which will pair wagyu beef with an assortment of wines.
“It’s a Japanese style of beef, and it’s imported from Japan,” McClurkin said. “It’s probably the highest quality you can get. One of our distributors has some available. ... That’s how I keep myself from getting burnt out and having a daily routine. You’ve got to keep things interesting.”
During slow evenings at dinner, he visits with guests in the restaurant.
“It’s getting to know the people and building relationships with the guests,” McClurkin said. “I’ve only been there three months, but (one of the Villagers) has my number and he calls me. He invites me on his boat. That’s the most rewarding part of it.”
He views the position as an opportunity for personal growth.
“I’ve never worked in a facility that does multiple events like weddings and the dining room service,” McClurkin said. “It was to learn something new, a new challenge.
Minkert said although the restaurant wasn’t struggling under the previous leadership, sales have increased by 20-30 percent since he and McClurkin joined the team.
“I just want them to enjoy the value of life,” Minkert said about restaurant guests. “I want to be taken care of. I want to be served correctly. I think that’s what they’ve done as guests in our restaurant.”