By LIZ BUTTON
On Wednesday night, after press time, the city was expected to announce it reached an agreement with Long Island-based Lessing’s Inc. to take over food and beverage operations at Rye Golf Club’s Whitby Castle restaurant for the next 10 years.
In its new partnership with Lessing’s, the company will pay a commission from their revenue to the city as a condition of the agreement to operate out of the Castle, where the restaurant will be open on a seasonal basis, the same as last year when interim general manager Jim Lopolito was in charge.
The castle will be open to the public—to both members and non-members—and will offer casual dining and outdoor patio tables as well as a bar area and catering services for weddings, club members-only events and private events.
At a Tuesday night Rye Golf Club Commission meeting, the nine-member commission unanimously voted to support the Lessing’s agreement under its current terms. The agreement was reached by the city’s Whitby RFP Review Committee, a collection of city officials and golf commissioners among others, which vetted the six proposals to take over castle operations.
Founded in 1890, Lessing’s has catering operations in more than 100 locations, which include corporate dining facilities, educational institutions and public and private clubs including a number of golf clubs as well as private wedding venues and full-service restaurants across Manhattan, Long Island, Connecticut and other parts of the northeast.
Golf Club Commissioner and RFP committee member John Duffy said the new vendor will be a “good partnership” for the club.
Commission chairman and RFP committee member Mack Cunningham said he hopes members will come out to support and patronize the castle, because it is still a big part of the club’s potential for success, even though in the past it may have been a financial drain.
According to Commissioner Patrick Dooley, the club will receive an extra percentage of Lessing’s gross revenue each month, which will be higher or lower depending on the vendor’s degree of success in generating revenue.
Lessing’s will pay the city an annual minimum commission fee, which will include an annual base commission fee, also based on revenue, as well as a commission from revenue generated by any of Lessing’s catering events held off-premises, as long as they fall within a certain area.
Lessing’s, as a tenant of sorts, is also obligated to maintain the castle interior and carry out and pay for specific capital improvements as required by the agreement like restoring the wood flooring in the ballroom for $75,000, redesigning the outdoor bar for $20,000 and resurfacing the outdoor terrace for $5,000, all in year one of the agreement.
The city will still be responsible of taking care of the exterior of the building, commissioners said.
According to the contract, Lessing’s will pay for its own utilities and is required to engage its own employees and keep its own books.
Commissioners acknowledged that castle operations have been losing money over the years since the city took over in 2006; in fact, Whitby realized a deficit of $650,000 in 2013. The castle also experienced financial hardship due to a scandal uncovered in late 2012 in which the former general manager Scott Yandrasevich was found to have allegedly submitted fraudulent purchase orders through fake staffing companies, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars of member dues into his own pocket over several years.
“We believe doing this can stabilize the financials of the club and will allow us to put away some money…and build up a small fund for capital improvements,” for possible use in other areas of the club, Dooley said.
Cunningham, a former city councilman, called the path to get to a new vendor a “healthy process” and thanked the review committee for the many hours of hard work that led to a satisfactory end result.
At the end of the day, golf commissioners seemed to be on the same page with the rest of the committee. However, the healthiness of the committee’s review process was not apparent of late, as evidenced by recent news of tension among commission members and the rest of the committee.
In order to meet the deadline for the start of golf season, the city hired Harrison-based
catering company Powell’s at its March 26 meeting to run the club’s snack bar for one year, so there would be a vendor in place to run the poolside café and the club’s snack vendor cart for early season golfers.
The city sent out a request for proposals in October 2013 and received six responses as of Dec. 27, 2013, which the committee has been vetting ever since.
At the April 22 golf commission meeting, commissioners, who serve the city in an advisory capacity, also unanimously voted to eliminate the $300 food minimum for members. That decision was also pending City Council approval Wednesday night, after press time.