November 24, 2022

Luke Johnson heads up new food management at ESY&CC


When Luke Johnson accepted the position of food and beverages manager at Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club recently, he had a clear sense of the tone he wanted to establish in the club’s dining area.

“I don’t want the experience at the club to be a transactional environment, but rather one that is hospitable and feels like family where people are not just accepted but celebrated,” said Johnson.

He noted that the staff often gathers after closing hours to munch on some leftovers and talk about what can be done to improve service — what he calls “team reflections.”

The club has a staff of about 20 in food operations, and now that the pandemic has eased, Johnson said staff shortages are a thing of the past, noting it is sometimes difficult to find enough hours to satisfy everyone. “It’s a challenge, but it’s better than not having enough staff to maintain the service we want to give our members. Staff members are now training to fill multiple positions to provide even more flexibility,” said Johnson.

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He was speaking shortly after the club had hosted the Hospital Ball, where about 200 people had gathered for a black tie event that garnered the club rave reviews on social media.

“We feel it was a big success and are pleased to hear some of the nice comments that have come our way,” said Johnson. “We are now in a position to host major social events and special occasions on the Eastern Shore.”

Raised in the Hudson Valley area of New York State, Johnson graduated from Bard College with a degree in Latin and enjoyed the college experience enough that he remained to earn a master’s degree in literature.

While teaching English at the middle-school and high-school level for six years, he always had a second job as a barista, bartender, or server. It was at one of these gigs that he met his future wife, Kayleigh, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and now the chef at ESY&CC.

“We’ve worked together at a number of places,” said Johnson, 28, who taught high-school English in Iowa for two years while Kayleigh was an executive pastry chef and also teaching culinary, pastry, and baking arts in the area.

“We were ready to leave Iowa when COVID-19 hit, and Kayleigh had fond memories of vacationing on Chincoteague with her family growing up, so I applied and got a teaching job in Northampton County. Kayleigh became the chef here at the club two years ago, and at the end of this past teaching year, the opportunity opened up for me as food and beverages manager,” said Johnson.

On working with his wife, Johnson said, “It’s been great, but we’ve done it before so it’s nothing new.” The couple lives in Painter.

Kayleigh keeps ESY&CC kitchen in order

Kayleigh Johnson

Kayleigh Johnson said a recent change at the club has been to go to a larger menu that is available in both the Blue Heron Dining Room and the Mariner’s Pub. 

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One of the new entrées is lemon pepper swordfish, one of six gluten-free options. There are also vegetarian appetizers after input from members. A new favorite appetizer is firecracker green beans, said Kayleigh, among a wide selection of 11 choices in addition to soups and salads.

She noted that the fish and chips entrée now features a sizable portion of Mediterranean sea bass and has been popular with diners. 

The menu also includes seasonal pasta, crab cakes, fried chicken drumsticks, filet mignon, and a variety of sandwiches that can be ordered in either the dining room or the bar. 

There is a Happy Hour from 3 to 5 p.m each day with more beverage choices, including draft beer from local breweries, interesting new cocktail choices, and expanded wine offerings, with selections from Italy, Spain, France, Australia, and other countries. 

Johnson said attendance at Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. has grown largely due to word of mouth. “We had some members coming, who spread the word to their friends, and now it is hugely popular.”

There’s also the “Flag on the Plate” on Sunday afternoons from 2 to 6 when football games are shown on the multiple TVs, with a bar menu available to the patrons who can also spread out to the lounge. Popcorn shrimp, wing zings, and loaded nachos are among the offerings members can snack on while cheering their favorite team.

With her background as a pastry chef, Kayleigh takes pride that all the desserts are homemade. “I introduce seasonal tastes with my cheesecakes and other desserts,” she said. An Apple Cider cheesecake, in addition to a Chai Panda Cotta, a Maple Brown Sugar Chocolate Pot de Creme, and the the highly popular Tiramisu, are currently desserts made in house by Johnson

Kayleigh believes food is so much more than just nourishment for the body. “Food has the power to take you somewhere and make connections, whether it’s a smell that reminds you of your grandma’s house or an ingredient that brings back a favorite memory. It’s not just the food; it’s an experience. I really enjoy being able to elevate the dining experience with the food I put out.”

Brad York new pro shop manager

Brad York
Brad York

The new pro shop manager is Brad York, 53, a Navy veteran who recently retired after 20 years in the information technology field.

York said he is learning the names of members and appreciates the friendliness everyone has shown him.

Living in Parksley, York is running for town council and is busy with the local Elks Lodge. His wife, formerly Sandy Waterfield, a native of Pungoteague, retired as vice president in the human resources field.

“I put in a lot of hours when I was in IT, so I just couldn’t stop and do nothing,” said Brad. “I heard about the job at the pro shop and was fortunate it worked out for me. “I love golf, although the game doesn’t always love me back. But whatever I can do to make the experience better for the members and guests, I am willing to do.”

Andrew Howard oversees course management

Andrew Howard

Since assuming the position of course superintendent in March 2013, Andrew Howard has drawn high praise from members of ESY&CC for the excellent condition of the golf course despite having a relatively small staff and the fact he is working with greens that are now 60 years old.

“We try to stay on top of things and work as efficiently as possible,” said Howard one recent morning while irrigating a green following a summer of extreme drought.

Howard heads a staff of eight, but unlike superintendents at many courses, you won’t find him in an office but out on the course. “I enjoy being out here and wouldn’t be happy if I stayed in an office,” said Howard, who usually starts his day shortly after 6 a.m.

A native of Wilmington, N.C., Howard said he has always enjoyed the outdoors, and after realizing college was not for him and dropping out of the University of North Carolina, he spending a year in Scotland, the home of golf, where he played several courses, including the famed St. Andrews links. “I fell in love with golf courses in Scotland, and using the GI bill after serving in the Coast Guard, I attended agronomy school and earned my certification.”

Howard worked at resort courses in Baton Rouge, Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, but said he much prefers the atmosphere at a club like ESY&CC. “At resort golf courses, you have people coming and going every day, but here I see many of the members on a regular basis and enjoy the relationships I have formed over the years.”

Howard said he once played golf but no longer, explaining with a big grin, “It would be like going back to work. I would be standing over a golf ball with a club and thinking, ‘I should be spraying that goosegrass I see out of the corner of my eye.’ ”

Howard said the greens at the club are penngrass, not the typical bentgrass or bermuda found at many courses, making the speed of the greens slower than what golfers typically encounter. “Having greens that are 60 years old can be a challenge, but we are pleased that they are holding up pretty well with our staff staying on top of things.”

Howard, 42, lives in Cashville with his wife, Kendall, an Alabama native, and their 7-year-old daughter, Abigail. “My day starts early, but I usually get away in time to pick her up from school at Pungoteague Elementary, and I like that.” 

When away from the course, Howard enjoys gardening and cooking. “My problem is I also enjoy eating most everything I cook,” he said, patting his stomach.

Amaris Mazziott, business manager at ESY&CC

Since Amaris Mazziott became business manager at the club two years ago, she has seen a huge increase in membership, from 300 members to about 500 now.

“It’s been a huge increase and more work, but I like to stay busy,” said Mazziott, 25, whose major in college was pastoral ministry.

Her husband, John, is the youth minister at His Way in Fellowship in Melfa, and they have a 2-year-old son. She is children’s minister and worship leader at the church, which will soon break ground on a building project that will increase seating capacity from 70 to 250.

Commenting on her interactions with ESY&CC members, Mazziott said,“Although I don’t get to interact with the members as much as some of our staff, I really enjoy the relationships I have with club members, but I also realize they might not always like to hear from me because it’s usually when I send a bill.”

“There are so many many things to love about Eastern Shore Yacht and Country Club,” Mazziott said, displaying her ever-present smile. “I have an incredible workplace view, with the warmth of the fireplace and the amazing view of Taylor Creek; we have an incredible staff that are so funny and kind; but most of all my favorite thing about working at the club are its members who are incredibly thoughtful and hospitable. There’s a lot of times where I am easily reminded that I am incredibly blessed to work here.”

Stodghill Speaks of Vision Promoting Team Atmosphere

Maggie and Chris Stodghill

Since assuming the position of general manager at the Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club in April, Chris Stodghill has often spoken to the staff about his vision of creating a culture that promotes a team atmosphere and provides outstanding service for the members and their guests.

Stodghill, who played quarterback in college before becoming an all-conference quarterback in the semi-pro Mason-Dixon Football League, has coached his three sons in both football and baseball for more than decade now. So, it is no surprise he talks in terms of teamwork when it comes to the ESY&CC staff.

“We work as a team and help each other out whenever we can,” said Stoghill. “It’s always evolving and it’s not always perfect, but we ride the wave as long as we can and when we hit a flat spot, we regroup and fix it.” Stodghill said the staff will soon gather with Andrew Howard cooking pork for the group, giving everyone an opportunity to socialize and get to know each other better. `

Stodghill noted he served his first platter recently when he saw a need in the dining room, adding he was impressed at how Sebastian Bowers stepped up and ran the kitchen when Chef Kayleigh was off recently. “There were concerns with Kayleigh and Luke away for a much-deserved vacation, but everything went smoothly with Sebastian stepping up.”

Stodghill says the club is fully staffed now, and with cross training among the employees, members should not see any drop off in service. ‘We don’t have to scramble quite as much when we were down on staff, but we want to hear from the members where we can improve service. That’s what we are here for,” said Stodghill, who noted business manager Amaris Mazziott helped him to get up to speed quickly in his new job.

Stodghill recognizes the members have different interests, and events have been added to the calendar to appeal to a wide range of interests and ages.

There are seasonal and holiday events plus regular offerings, including wine tasting, flower workshops, bridge, knitting and frequent musical entertainment. New events include Backyard Football, which Stodghill naturally is all in on, and the first annual ESYCC Rockfish Tournament, appealing to the anglers. 

Of course, golf and tennis are longtime staples at the club, but the addition of Pickle Ball in the past year has attracted a regular and active crowd enjoying what is the fastest growing sport in the country. 

Stodghill says he welcomes feedback from the members when setting the calendar. “We are open to introducing events if there is enough interest. We are here to serve the community while providing recreation and entertainment for our members.”

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