Westhaven Golf Club – The Game Changers

Perry Lancianese and Bill Brown moved from West Palm Beach, Florida to take top jobs at the Westhaven Golf Club. Now, they’re shaking up the status quo.

At the Westhaven Golf Club on the morning of July 28, Perry Lancianese poured coffee into new glassware he had ordered — a latte glass garnished with a rock sugar stir and a cappuccino glass with a lemon twist.

He has insisted that the restaurant serve guests better coffee in the proper glassware since he started as the General Manager and Director of Golf Operations at the Westhaven Golf Club this summer. Glassware may seem like a small detail, he said, but at a private upscale club, the details matter.

This is just one example of the changes he and his new Executive Chef Bill Brown intend to make within the year. Brown, a renowned private club chef, plans to work with Lancianese to revitalize the restaurant. The pair spoke with Southern Land Company about their goals, their friendship and their leadership philosophy. An edited version of the conversation is below.

Southern Land Company: Tell me about your backgrounds. How did you two get into this business?

Perry Lancianese: As a kid, I worked in my family’s three restaurants. My parents were Italian immigrants and my mother Rose Marie was the chef for all of the restaurants. My father Roman was the face of the business. He was out on the floor with customers, and was very well-known in our community.

My big brother was a PGA Golf Professional and I followed in his footsteps. I was working as the Head Golf Professional at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray, Florida when, after noticing a void in the Food & Beverage department, I offered my assistance one evening. That’s when the Food and Beverage Director discovered that I had extensive food and beverage experience including a culinary certificate and asked me to help streamline operations in the clubhouse. As my career progressed, I took on more and more of the hospitality work, which is how I became both Golf Professional and a Club Manager.

Bill Brown: I graduated high school with a scholarship to an art institute, but I didn’t see any money in it. I had been cooking since I was 15 years old — my first job was at the Sheraton hotel. I enjoyed it. The hours were tough, but you either love it or you don’t.

How did you two meet?

PL: We grew up ten miles away from each other in Western Pennsylvania steel country. We didn’t know each other then, but Bill worked at some great places in Pittsburgh before going to Los Angeles, where he worked for 23 years. I was in South Florida for 28 years and we both worked for high-end clubs. We had mutual friends that put us together.

When Bill and I met, I was working as the General Manager and Director of Golf at the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club. I was looking for someone top-notch to run our kitchen, and a mutual friend from Pittsburgh arranged for me to meet Bill over the phone.

BB: We hit it off, we got along, and the rest is history. I feel like I’ve known Perry all my life.

PL: We’re from the same place. He’s a vintage car guy and I am too. Where we’re from in Pennsylvania, there’s a strong work ethic. During the recession when all the steel business started going to Japan, we got out in order to grow our careers.

Walk me through your decision to move to Westhaven.

PL: A former club General Manager who now has his own recruiting business exclusively for private clubs told me about an opportunity in Middle Tennessee. He said 80 people had applied for the job already, but he thought I would be a good fit. He set up a Skype interview with Brian Sewell, President of Southern Land Company. After that conversation, and a visit to Franklin, Tennessee to meet Tim Downey, Owner of Southern Land Company, Mr. Sewell decided to make a site visit to see how I ran operations in Florida, which is when he made and offer and I accepted. I left Palm Beach Polo after 22 years working there. Once I got settled in Tennessee, I called Bill and asked him to join me at Westhaven.

BB: When Perry asked me to move, I had a hard decision leaving my family to come here. But I came up here to interview, and had lunch with the owner of the company and the president.

They are such genuine, down-to-earth people, and I saw the same thing as Perry. I knew I would be comfortable here, not just work-wise but with my life.

PL: I’ll tell you a story — I bought a brownstone in Westhaven before I moved here. When I closed on it, a friend helped me move in. I met more people after the movers were done at 8:30 PM in the 45 minutes it took to empty my car than I had met in the four years that I lived in my previous community. My new neighbors in Westhaven came over and introduced their dogs and brought their kids — they gave me pound cake. Right then I turned to my friend and said, “I made a good decision.”

As a top chef, how is the Middle Tennessee market different from Florida?

BB: When I came here, everybody said this is a meat and potatoes club. It’s not. Guests eat more seafood than steaks here. But I had to talk to our members and do my own research — that’s very important. Our members are well-traveled. They know culinary trends are and they expect that in their dining choices.

Perry and I have a challenge in that it can be difficult to get certain items our members expect, but we’re working with purveyors. For example, I wanted to put a Chinese chicken salad on the next menu. There’s a red ginger that I use that our purveyors had never heard of before. Ultimately, they found it.

We could take the easy route and exclude those special items, but Perry and I are not about that.

What other changes do you plan on making?

PL: Already, we have improved our kitchen to provide guests with consistently good cup of 100% Columbian coffee, as well as iced coffee, cappuccinos and lattes. I’ve made everybody crazy with this, but it’s all about the little things. I learned more about the importance of attention to detail while I was consulting for luxury cruise company Crystal Cruises (they have been ranked #1 for over 16 years now). I have been teaching golf for their enrichment program for 14 years. I’ve traveled with the company through Europe and I observed how Crystal Cruises demands that their staff’s uniforms are perfect – how they are very intentional about everything down to the cutlery. That matters.

At Westhaven, people should be able to enjoy the opportunity to have a more sophisticated, European experience right in their own club. We’ve taken steps to accomplish this such as adding linen table cloths, fresh flowers and a complete place setting for dinner service.

I’ve also worked on sharpening the Westhaven Golf Club brand. We’ve put flags outside with our logo, we’ve added a hostess stand at the front of the club and a Westhaven Golf Club rug. We’ve done all this so that when people enter the club, they have a real sense that they are somewhere high-class and special.

Also, Westhaven will build 1500 new houses before the community is complete, so we’re going to have to grow to accommodate our expanding neighborhood. Really, our job is to support the Westhaven community.  To that end, we’re planning a major remodel in the beginning of 2017 to add another jewel to the “community crown,” so to speak. We’re going to bring in more contemporary furniture and heighten the luxury feel of the club. We’re making sure that we showcase vistas of the golf course by improving the golf course and adjusting seating around our facilities to take advantage of the beautiful space we have. We’re also going to stay ahead of the curve in our golf department as well. We’ve already upgraded to a more sophisticated membership tracking system, and we’re going to continue to keep the golf shop stocked with the best gear in the industry. I’m also working to elevate our excellent golf academy and club fitting center.

These are only a handful of the many clubwide improvements we’re planning on making.

After all these years in the industry, what keeps you excited about your work?

BB: You can never get comfortable, because once you’re comfortable, you’re not doing your job. I have to constantly think about how I can tweak things to make them better.

PL: For me, it’s the heat of the moment when the bartenders are getting slammed and the servers are working hard and Bill’s running the kitchen like clockwork and socializing with guests and it all just comes together. I feel like the director of an orchestra. We have this sense of accomplishment at the end of the night. When you lose that, that’s when you should walk. You have to have passion to do your best.