Friday, April 29, 2011

Meet Randy Polo, Smoke Rise Inn General Manager

Meet Randy Polo, Smoke Rise Inn General Manager

Have you met Randy Polo, Smoke Rise Inn General Manager?

Ted and I recently had the opportunity to speak with Randy Polo and learn more about him and what he considers important in delivering a memorable Smoke Rise dining experience.

Randy became General Manager of the Smoke Rise Inn in July 2010 and has been busy ever since... I bet you'll be as surprised as we were to realize how much has happened.

As a reminder, the Smoke Rise Village Inn is open to everyone in Kinnelon and beyond - although we recommend a reservation, given the changes that Randy describes in the interview below! Not just for dinner, but also lunch.

C.B.: Randy, please tell me about yourself and your background.

RP: I was born and raised in Whippany, NJ. After graduating Whippany Park HS, I attended Penn State University in State College, PA where I studied Hotel Restaurant Management. 

After receiving my degree in Hotel Restaurant and Institutional Management, I went to work for Pepsi for roughly 2 years. It was there that I came across this unique Club that was opening in Florham Park called Park Avenue Club. The premise behind the Club was that 100% of the profits would be returned to 11 non-profit organizations annually. These non-profits were also the ones who invested the money needed to renovate this 100 year old barn into the beautiful Club it is today. I worked there from 1994 to 2009 as the Director of Catering.

C.B.: How does the Smoke Rise Inn differ from the Park Avenue Club?

RP: The biggest difference is that at Park Avenue Club we catered to a much broader corporate clientele because of our location and that we were open breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday.

Everyone from doctors to lawyers to financial advisers utilized the Club for business purposes. The Smoke Rise Inn was never marketed in that way hence the reason most of our weekday business comes from a la carte dining and within the gates of Smoke Rise. That is something we are hard at work on changing.

C.B.: What do you like about the Smoke Rise Inn? What don’t you like about it?

RP: The actual building of the Inn is amazing! So much history, character and charm. Too often older buildings aren't seen for their true value to the community, rather what can be made by knocking them down to make way for something more modern. That's one of the reasons I liked working at Park Avenue Club. The building was so unique and is actually now on the list of Historic Landmarks in the State of New Jersey. I believe my admiration for older style buildings stems back to my childhood as I was raised in an old colonial home built in 1774.

What I don't like is the commute. I was spoiled with a 2 mile ride to work everyday. This winter was brutal!

C.B.: What’s most important to you in delivering a memorable dining experience?

RP: There are so many parts of the dining equation that need to be achieved to really make an experience memorial.

Great food and service are a given, the building blocks or foundation of the experience. Certainly a comfortable setting is important. It's funny how so many of our diners have such a strong preference for one or the other of our two dining rooms. I think we do a really good job of accommodating people at their preferred location and table each and every time they come in.

However what I feel is so important and often so overlooked is simply making someone feel welcome. I treat our diners like they are a guest in my home. Think about it, when we entertain guests in our own homes we pull out all the stops to make that person feel welcome and comfortable. It's an aspect of dining that I see is so often missed and one that makes me want to go back to a particular restaurant, even if I know I can possibly get a better meal elsewhere.

C.B.: What were your biggest surprises when you came to the Smoke Rise Inn?

RP: One of the biggest surprises was just how large the Smoke Rise community actually is. I had no idea there were so many beautiful homes spread out over such a large area.

Another was just how welcome the residents, staff and Board of Governors have made me feel. After spending fifteen years at Park Avenue Club, the Members and the staff were like family to me and it made leaving harder than I thought it was going to be. I certainly feel that closeness beginning to develop here at Smoke Rise and it's a wonderful feeling.

C.B.: From our conversation we know that you’ve spent a lot of time focusing on improving the Smoke Rise Inn experience. What changes have you implemented?

RP: There have been so many great changes and additions to the Inn and I have to thank Bob Morrisroe and the entire Board of Governors for having the faith in me to deliver on what I said could be done if they only made the investment in the Inn.

The Smoke Rise Village Inn Patio
Back in September we unveiled a brand new dinner menu. We removed what Chef George and I felt were tired, old selections and added many great new ones. At the same time we rolled out a much broader and expanded wine list that has more than doubled our wine bottled sales. I believe part of that also has to to with the improved stemware we purchased since what was here in the past was rather archaic.

There's also a new summer cocktail menu that's perfect for those afternoons and evenings on the patio here at the Smoke Rise Inn [e.g., the Smoke Rise Dreamsicle, Key Lime Pie Martini, Raspberry Truffle or Smoke Rise Mojito...]. We've been working hard with the staff to improve the finer points of service and getting them comfortable with servicing our guests.

There has also been a larger addition of new special events and dining offerings for our customers in the past 8 months. From our food and wine pairing dinners to our theme based events such as San Gennaro Feast, Jazz nights and next month's Cinco de Mayo celebration, all have sparked a new interest in the Inn which is great. We've added nightly specials to a la carte dining also which has helped add a new customer base. Prime Rib on Tuesdays, Lobster on Fridays and our Steakhouse features on Saturdays have been a big draw on those evenings.

On a physical level we've just finished a complete remodel of our Ballroom restrooms and they came out beautiful! The previous restrooms were so old and were an absolute turnoff to Catering clients such as brides who always look at things like that. Now when I tour the Inn I'm proud to show them off because the response is always the same, "Wow!"

We also have a plan in place to remodel the lobby area of the Inn this Summer as well. I'm excited to see that get done as it's the first impression of the Inn you come upon and right now it's out of date and style.

C.B.: Talk to us about the improvement in business, in traffic, the response from people who’ve come…

RP: Business has been strong! There's a great buzz on the street about the Smoke Rise Inn and how it has improved and it's been a great asset to us. I'm seeing and meeting new people every day who are coming in after months and even years of not utilizing the Inn. Our biggest allies are our regular customers who are now proud and excited to bring new and old customers back to the Inn and show them who we are verses what they might remember us to be.

As you already know, we've added lunch service to the Inn's dining schedule back on March 15th [see Lunch Menu] and that has been welcomed with open arms. On average we serve between 25 to 40 guests a day -- which I couldn't be happier about. I believe our increased coverage in the Smoke Rise Newsletter, in house advertising and most importantly our Facebook Fan Page has help inform our customer base of what we are planning and doing on any given day. We do special advertising and promotions on Face-book that are there reward our followers. So look us up on Facebook and "like" our page.

C.B.: What changes do you anticipate for the balance of the year?

RP: Oh, we have a few more surprises up our sleeves. I can't tell you everything! You'll have to follow the newsletter and our Face-book page closely to find out.

C.B.: Which successes are you most proud of?

RP: There's so much I'm proud of here at the Inn.

I'm proud of our food program and Executive Chef George Tavolara and his team of the dramatic improvement over the past 6 months.

I'm proud of the service staff for wanting to learn and improve themselves and to be part of the "New" Inn. 

However what makes me most proud is when customers stop in unannounced, expecting the Inn to be empty, as it always was, and they see there's not a table to be had. They all seem to smile and say the same thing, "Wow, this is great!"

C.B.: Randy, what do you like most about Smoke Rise and Kinnelon?

It's my new home!

C.B.: Welcome home, Randy!  Thanks very much for giving us a 'taste' of all that's new at the Smoke Rise Inn...

If you haven't yet visited the Smoke Rise Inn, I recommend you do so. And, when you do, please feel free to leave a comment to let us know what you think of the changes that Randy Polo and the Smoke Rise Inn team have implemented..

You can reach Randy directly at or by calling 973-838-7770.

By the way, we've invited Randy to share highlights about the Smoke Rise Inn on a regular basis. Please stay tuned.

And, if you haven't already, please consider subscribing to the Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog via RSS or email updates.

Thank you! We look forward to seeing you at the Smoke Rise Inn.

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