Despite the Rye Golf Club investigation and allegations that have shook the club’s membership over the last five months, all is calm and steady insideWhitby Castle this month. The restaurant will open this Friday, March 22, with a new menu, new chef and new staff determined to please their customers.
New interim general manager Jim Lopolito quickly finished reviewing documents with his staff before meeting Patch in his new office for an interview last week.
“I want to make the restaurant profitable,” Lopolito said when asked about his plans for Whitby. “A lot of things being done previously did not make money,” he said, explaining he will eliminate, revise or change things like pricing, packages and the menu in order to reach profitability. Lopolito also said he is working to be as responsive as possible and to make operations as transparent as he can.
Under the close scrutiny of the golf club membership, commission, public officials and the media, Lopolito is working to make Whitby into a “destination restaurant,” and to prove the restaurant can be a success. It has been losing money in recent years and catering operations were not turning a profit either, Lopolito said. The club is run as an enterprise fund, which means it is a city owned property that is self-sustaining through membership dues and fees, not subsidized by tax payers.
Former manager Scott Yandrasevich resigned in January amidst a city council investigation into allegations he was stealing hundreds of thousands from the membership. The council reported those allegations to be true and turned their findings over to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.
In late January, the city hired Lopolito as the RGC's interim general manager. He has about four decades of experience in the hospitality industry and loves his work, he says. A job well done catering to people’s needs is what makes him happy, even though it can often be a thankless job, he said. Lopolito most recently worked at the Larchmont Shore Club and the Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, and he worked as the general manager for Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre under its former owner for ten years.
“I know everyone is very nervous and concerned and rightfully so from what happened in the past,” Lopolito said. “I want them to be assured that it will not happen under my watch and I am asking for their trust.”
The new manager will not comment in further detail about the investigation, other than to state that he will make sure that if he discovers any illicit behavior “of the past,” it will be ended.
“I have to make sure there is a clean slate,” he said. (Read about Lopolito’s first ten days on the job here.)
RGC Commission members have given Lopolito their trust but they are in constant communication with him about their ideas, concerns and requests.
“Communication, communication, communication,” Said Pat Geoghegan, a commission member and chair of the marketing and membership committee. That is the difference,” she said, between Lopolito and the former manager.
New Chef, New Menu
Last month, Lopolito hired chef Ken Pulomena to head the kitchen. Rye residents most likely remember Pulomena from his days at Morgan’s Fish House a few years ago. He has also worked at Luigi’s, Tavern 18, Sanibel Chophouse and Bell’s Prime Cut over the last ten years.
“Very quickly I think people will learn the food here has returned to a fabulous level,” Lopolito said. Geoghegan agrees.
The club held a reception for the new restaurant in March 1, which about 200 people attended and which Geoghegan said was well received.
“Crab cakes are best ever,” she said. “So delicious and moist.”
The restaurant features a whole new menu with items priced from low, medium and high in order to reach a broader market where a wide range of diners will feel comfortable, Lopolito said.
“Everything is priced to make money,” he said, “but at different levels.” Menus will be printed in house so the chef has the flexibility to make quick changes. Plus, in-house printing is cheaper than outside printing.
The menu features a three-blend (sirloin, brisket and chuck) beef burger, that Pulomena designed just for the club. Other sandwiches listed are an open face grilled marinated shell steak, fried fillet of Atlantic cod, grown-up grilled cheese and roasted chicken, spinach, fontina and 24 hr tomato sandwich. They offer a variety of fish, chicken, veal, steak and baby lamp shops “simply grilled.” Entrées include baked country meatloaf, veal, pork chop prosciutto wrapped shrimp and more. Read the full menu in the photo attached to this article.
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Lopolito is also looking to change the wine list, after he gets rid of dozens of bottles of unnecessary wine, he said. He has inventoried the large selection of wines kept at the club and found many bottles he does not believe will sell before their expiration dates. Without effective wine storage, he is hoping to sell those bottles in the marketplace or to other restaurants and then restock with wines more likely to sell.
The castle opens this Friday. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, lunch service will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner service from 5 to 9 p.m.. During the timeframe of 3:30 and 5 p.m. the bar menu will remain open. The Castle also provides private meeting/event rooms for up to 25 attendees, and catering from 25 to 270 guests.
The Rye city council’s investigation into the former manager’s conduct found that he allegedly created a staffing company and two other companies in order to funnel money to himself. So Rye Golf Club members are understandably concerned with how staffing will be handled at the club going forward.
Lopolito has agreements with three staffing agencies, Triangle Associates, based in New York City; Mack, based in Connecticut and Cutting Edge Elite, based in New York City. Each service specializes in different staffing needs – banquet staff, kitchen staff/local staff, and high-end model wait staff for formal events. Each group serves a different need and he has submitted the agencies’ RFPs already, he said.
Lopolito will have a form of contract and copy of insurance for all food and beverage operators, for which he says it is impossible to have RFPs because of the constantly changing price of food. Lopolito will have some form of a contract in which the distributors ensure the quality of food, time of delivery and other more constant factors, he said. He has been requiring such contracts from food and beverage distributors throughout his whole career in the hospitality industry, he explained.
Members will see many familiar faces on the wait staff, as many of the employees have returned for the season. However, the people behind the scenes in the kitchen are all new employees – none of the former kitchen staff have returned.
Another issue that outraged RGC members was Yandrasevich’s policy on tips. He used tips intended for employees at Whitby Castle to offset operating costs. Lopolito said that the club is working on the new tip policy and that it will abide by New York State laws.
The RGC Commission continues to stay in close contact with Lopolito and each other in order to make this season successful, Geoghegan said.
Pool and golf members can expect more activities, a better restaurant and collaboration with the Rye Arts Center to bring local art into the castle, she said.
Also, the Commission has seen more active committee volunteers than recent years, Geoghegan said.
The city council recently formed a “Strategic Committee” (RFP committee) to consider future options for Whitby Castle and the structure of the enterprise fund, but that committee has struggled. Three members have resigned in the last month due to a difference of opinion on the committee’s scope and purpose and some hurt feelings.
While Lopolito is aware of the troubles the RFP committee has experienced, and the city’s concern over the castle’s future, he stays focused on his mission to make the operation profitable.
Lopolito hopes to affect the city’s final decision on a possible restructuring of Whitby operations by proving the restaurant's ability to make money and to please diners and customers. He urges club members and the public to check out the restaurant this weekend and see if they find a better taste.
*Editor's Note: This article has been changed from its original version to reflect that the Rye city manager hired Jim Lopolito in January, 2013.