On the eve of Ivanhoe Club’s 25th Anniversary, the board of directors approached the club’s general manager and COO, Raymond Kondziela, with an idea about how to make the club more appealing to younger families. Recognizing that young families today often are drawn to more casual, social environments than places frequented by their parents and grandparents, they envisioned a new pub-style restaurant as a way of updating the club’s ambiance. They wanted to know if Kondziela could make it happen for them—in the next 60 days.
“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” says Kondziela, a certified club manager who has 30 years of experience managing high-service country clubs—the last 12 of them at Ivanhoe. As soon as the club doors closed for their annual winter “fix-up” period in January 2015, Kondziela and his team got busy with a full makeover in one of the club’s dining rooms, transforming it from a formal environment to a place “where young families would feel at home,” he says. Carpets were ripped out, a bar was built, and new furniture was ordered. Kondziela personally oversaw the execution of every detail in an effort to give just the right touch for the desired effect, from the faux-tin ceiling panels and ultra-cushy highboy bar stools, to the selection of local craft brews on tap and the menu of pub fare.
“The thinking was that it has to be comfortable and user-friendly with easy access, quick food, a great bar, fun conversation—everything you would expect from a neighborhood watering hole,” Kondziela says.
Sports, naturally, provided the theme, and the new venue is known as the Stadium Pub. The club forged a relationship with Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks NHL franchise and an Ivanhoe member, to integrate the new pub as one of the Wirtz Corporation’s network of 65 Chicago-area “Blackhawks Bars.”
“You get a live feed from the United Center on home games and when they score there’s a revolving siren light that goes off,” Kondziela says, explaining the theatrics that make Blackhawks Bars such a draw. “Everybody in the pub sings the song ‘Chelsea Dagger’ when they score a goal and win,” he adds of the team’s spirited theme song. “That’s part of the experience now in what we’ve branded as the Stadium Pub. The sports feel helps everyone to feel welcome.”
Ivanhoe’s new Stadium Pub ties into other concepts being unveiled as part of a deliberate push to create “a more casual experience and move away from being a very traditional country club,” as Kondziela puts it. For example, Fridays are now known as “Casual Fridays” at the club, which means jeans are allowed and families are encouraged to spend the evening socializing informally, without feeling like they need to gear up for a round a golf or make reservations for dinner in the club’s main restaurant.
“It reinforces that we are a destination club,” Kondziela says. “You can get off the train, get in your car, pick your family up and come right over, without getting the kids dressed up. It makes it more appealing for younger families to come.”
Rather than representing a drastic departure from the past, Kondziela says the changes at Ivanhoe simply reflect the club’s long-standing commitment to meet every need and desire of its members. Since arriving at Ivanhoe in 2003, he’s overseen an ongoing parade of improvements, including a $1.4 million renovation of the clubhouse ballroom and lobby (which he completed in a superhuman 70-day deadline) and the 19th Hole, a luxurious men’s bar and ladies lounge facility for which Ivanhoe “spent a half million dollars to make sure it feels like a home away from home,” he says. Of course, golf remains the main attraction—the 27-hole championship course design by renowned golf architect Arthur Hills is considered one of the best in the state. Nevertheless, even with golf at the Ivanhoe Club’s core, Kondziela says socialization drives Ivanhoe’s attendance.
As a veteran country-club manager, Kondziela says he honed the fine art of multitasking into a powerful tool for getting things done—always balancing his attention between the functional requirements of the facility each day and the need to improve the user experience over the long term. He oversees everything from pool maintenance and agronomy to menu creation and merchandising at the club’s pro shop, but he says his biggest passion is renovation work and design. “I’ve always been involved with the design teams and subs, picking the final textures, showing the design boards to the board and the membership … I consider it a privilege to help spearhead these projects at Ivanhoe.”
Judging from the looks of the recently completed work at Ivanhoe, the club is equally privileged to have him in that role.
Looking Ahead at Ivanhoe
Next up for Kondziela is an in-depth renovation of the 80-seat Thorngate Room, Ivanhoe’s main restaurant, which is adjacent to the new Stadium Pub. It will get a similar, “casual dining” treatment, giving up its white tablecloths, cascading drapery and pendant lighting in exchange for wooden tables, plush seating, farm-to-table fare and “everything you would expect in a great neighborhood restaurant,” says Kondziela. He emphasizes, however, that quality, a high level of attention to customer needs and a general sense of sophistication will not be lost in the process.
“You’ll still have all the amenities—wine glasses, silver, fine China, the best of everything—but it’s just that the feel has to be more user-friendly,” Kondziela says. The new and improved Thorngate Room should be ready to welcome guests by 2017.