Every year, or so it seems, the food and beverage department at golf courses across America play an increasingly important role in a club’s success. Rounds of golf remain the driving force, but “F&B” can often be the subtle difference in achieving – or not! -- a healthy bottom line.
This is especially true at Connecticut’s award-winning Lake of Isles Golf Club and Resort, where the Rees Jones-designed South Course serves a private membership while Jones’ North Course is open to the public. Such diversity might take a guru in the hospitality industry to figure it out. Fortunately for Lake of Isles, it’s got one.
“We think the world of Chris Campbell,” said Lake of Isles’ general manager, Archie Cart, of his F&B director for the past 11 years at the Troon Golf-managed facility that serves Foxwood Casino – one of the top-10 ranked casinos in the world.
“Chris is a class act. He’s so focused on customer details yet he really gets the big picture, which is why he can do it all. He’s got that gift of always being able to exceed everyone’s expectations.”
Which, of course, fits Troon’s F&B philosophy to a “T,” that “a great dining experience is the perfect accompaniment to a game of golf.” And nobody knows that better than Campbell, who also believes in Troon’s logic, that “through delivering superior service, diverse menu selections and comprehensive food and beverage programs . . . owners are discovering yet another opportunity to generate increased revenues.”
Born in Jamaica, Campbell moved to Florida when he was a teen-ager. He honed his skills in the hospitality industry working at well-known restaurants in Georgia like Chart House and 45 South, where he experienced every role from dishwasher to bartender to server to maître d’. Campbell moved into the golf side of the business while working at The Landings in Savannah, his last stop before he came to Lake of Isles. And even though Campbell earned a degree in elementary education along the way from Armstrong State University, it never came into play.
“Everybody needs to go through the service industry at least once to find out what it’s all about,” said the 45-year-old Campbell. “If you have a love for it, it’s definitely hard to leave.
“That’s basically what happened to me. I knew I was good at it, and so I just kept growing.”
Maybe it’s his easygoing Jamaican roots; or maybe it’s just the even-keeled nature of Chris Campbell. But for whatever the reason, Campbell thrives in F&B behind a simple philosophy.
“I’ve always liked my job because, basically, you’re doing things for other people,” said Campbell, who along with his wife, Emily, has three children – Aiden (12), Devin (8) and Madelyn (6).
“Making other people happy is why people take this job. My team, myself, well, we’re here to make others happy and that’s why I think we’ve been so successful at Lake of Isles. It’s not cookie-cutter; everything is different day in and day out, where you meet people with different expectations. Sometimes that the frustrating part of the job, and sometimes it’s the reason you love to do what you do.”
Make no mistake, Lake of Isles is a large and intricate operation. There are nonstop tournaments to host, elaborate weddings to cater, fun-filled family nights to produce and just about every other element imaginable, from member-guests to dining series to simply feeding hungry golfers at Lake of Isles’ incredible Matches Tavern. All prove to be a perfect arena to display Campbell’s creativity, said GM Cart.
“Chris does it all – Caribbean fare, seafood extravaganzas, Texas barbecue or pretty much anything else you can imagine, culinary-wise,” Cart explained. “He keeps it fresh, changing (the menus) all the time in his quest to always make thing better for our members and guests.”
Bethany Arico, the banquet manager at Lake of Isles who works under Campbell, said there is never a dull moment at the property, which is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which also owns the casino.
“He had a ‘Hungry Man Challenge’ last year, and it was just a crazy-good breakfast,” Arico recalled. “I mean, Chris is known for his spiciness; and what’s hot for us is mild to him.
“But I give him all the credit because he definitely likes to be one step ahead of our guests. He loves to ‘wow’ them. That’s always when Chris is the happiest. He’s just so laidback, and that’s such an awesome attitude to have when you’re the main man in a high-stress job. I know he always has my back and I’ve got his. Seriously, he’s like my big brother.”
Dianne Cahoon, the accountant for Lake of Isles, also pointed to Campbell’s rock-star cool as to why he is such an effective leader. And, yes, she said, Campbell also is quite effective in keeping F&B in the black.
“He’s such a great guy, very considerate and thoughtful and really strives to make sure our guests have a fantastic experience,” Cahoon noted. “He’s also a great friend, and really cares about the people he works with.” But asked if she thought all that easygoing vibe could be traced to Campbell’s island upbringing, Cahoon just laughed. “I’ve never been to Jamaica, but he does have a wonderful smile,” Cahoon countered.
Being Jamaican-American is an asset, Campbell said. “We play around with a lot of Jamaican food, like chicken dishes with jerk seasoning, as well as soups and other things,” he said. “But mostly, I just miss (Jamaica) all the time.
“I guess the question I get asked most about it is, ‘Where’s your accent.’ But I’m not Rastafarian (laughter) . . . I was fortunate enough recently to take my family on a cruise to St. James Parish in Mo’ (Montego) Bay. It felt like being home even though I’ve made a good home for us here in Connecticut.”
Not that Campbell wouldn’t consider yet another move if it meant opening up some new doors and adventures within Troon. “I’ve always been loyal to the places where I’ve worked at; I’ve never been a short-term employee,” Campbell said. “And that is especially true at Lake of Isles, which has been a very fun ride.”
But doesn’t F&B fall under a general manager’s job description, too? “Hopefully, there are some new things awaiting me within Troon,” Campbell said of the future. “But as long as I’m growing, I’m good with that.”