Country club follows trend and opens restaurant to public
Gastropub expands local offerings to accommodate anticipated increase in clientele.
Looking out over Muskegon Lake from the outdoor dining area at Se4sons Gastropub, customers can see the boat that brings Lake Michigan whitefish for the restaurant.
That’s a good example of the fresh, local food Executive Chef Sean Marr wants to feature in the newly renovated public restaurant at Muskegon Country Club, which reopened to the public this summer.
On one side, the country club’s rolling green golf course can be seen through windows, and on the other side, the lake shimmers in the sun. Marr hopes the view won’t detract from the dishes being prepared in the kitchen.
“It’s definitely the best view in Muskegon,” Marr said. “I’m trying to focus on farm to table and pulling in as many great sources as I can. I don’t want to cast too giant of a net, but we’ll keep it fresh and change the menu seasonally.
“If people come in once a week — or as often as they want — they should be able to find something new and different they’ll enjoy.”
To go along with the food, Marr said the bar is focusing on local beer and spirits. Usually, nine of the 10 taps are Michigan beers.
Marr, who is a Baker College graduate, has worked in country club restaurants his whole career, starting as a line cook at Spring Lake Country Club while he was in college.
He was the executive chef at Spring Lake for nearly four years before moving to Muskegon Country Club and also had spent three years in Arizona at Pinetop Country Club and Oro Valley Country Club.
His Michigan family was the main reason for his return to the lakeshore. The opportunity to open and help operate a public restaurant was the incentive to leave Spring Lake.
“I’d been in private country clubs for so long,” he said. “I’ve never been able to serve the public, and it’s nice to be able to serve a lot of different people and tastes. A lot of times, the general public is more adventurous. At the country club, I knew who (the diners) were and what they probably were going to order.”
Muskegon Country Club’s decision to move to a public restaurant format was mostly financial, Marr said. The banquet and event space opened to the public at the beginning of 2015.
He said Se4son has expanded its wait and kitchen staff, creating more jobs in the market.
“The membership wasn’t large enough to support a full-time restaurant on its own,” he said. “Bringing in the public will help everyone — from the members to the community.”
As Muskegon continues in its efforts to become more urban, Marr said he thinks a restaurant like Se4sons will help immensely. He said the recently closed upscale Mia & Grace helped set a precedent for what restaurant food can be in Muskegon, and he hopes he can continue the movement.
Se4sons opened in late June as a preview to members and then opened to the public without a “grand opening” in July to allow for the wait staff and cooks to hone their service. Marr also was new, having just joined the staff four months ago.
He said the crowds in the door have been steadily increasing every week.
With fall and winter marking an end to the golf season, Marr said he doesn’t expect the restaurant to slow down now that it serves a wider audience. He said country club restaurants regularly slow down a lot in the winter, especially with up to half of the membership being “snow birds” and heading south.
“There are a few restaurants that close in Muskegon and that should help us out with added customers,” he said. “There are some other attractions in Muskegon that could bring out-of-towners. We’re really trying to draw from all over and be competitive with even the Grand Rapids restaurants.”
Muskegon Country Club is part of a trend of private clubs that are opening their restaurants to the public and giving members more options. Most notably included in that trend in West Michigan are Watermark Properties’ four golf courses in the Grand Rapids area — including the recent partnership with Thousand Oaks Golf Club — and its RedWater Restaurant Group.
In the Business Journal’s story about the Watermark and Thousand Oaks partnership, Thousand Oaks Managing Director Patti Butcher said she expects to see more private-public country club models popping up across the country, as the younger generation, in particular, wants to see their dollars stretch further.
“My generation — they want fast golf, fast greens and fast friends,” Butcher said. “When you’re just paying for the golf, it’s a better value. You’re not a small number of people supporting an a la carte dining program.
“Golf clubs aren’t the only thing people do now.”
Marr agrees with Butcher’s sentiments and said he’s also watched country clubs become more family oriented.
“Families don’t want to go to the same restaurant every week,” he said. “Going public is a great way to broaden our market.
“But we still get our members who come in and eat the same thing every day. We’re here to make people happy.”