by Mike Sharkey
When the owners of The Seminole Club contracted with Michelle Bomba to open a restaurant on the first floor of the club in February, they figured they had a long term tenant on their hands.
The initial reaction was great. Almost from day one, Bomba’s was full of downtown folks craving homemade, southern cooking for lunch. After a while, it became apparent to the owners that it was very difficult to run a private club on the second floor and a public restaurant on the first without having everyone on the same page from a management perspective.
Recently, the Seminole Club and Bomba’s agreed to part ways and club owners hired Mississippi Management, Inc. Dining Services to run both the public restaurant and the private club. Doug Milne, one of the many owners of the club, said the decision in no way reflected negatively on Bomba or her restaurant.
“We found that it was very difficult, as a fault of no one, to put an individual restaurant on the first floor and expect that individual restaurant to provide service for the private club on the second floor,” said Milne, who owns a food brokerage company. “It just was not realistic.”
In MMI, The Seminole Club is getting a company that specializes in managing clubs and restaurants.
“We are a 43 year-old hotel company,” said Doug McEwan, the district manager for MMI Dining Services, whose office is at Amelia Island. “We were originally in the hotel business and we owned the seventh Holiday Inn franchise in the country at the time. The last two years, we have been a privately held company owned by two guys in Jackson, Miss.”
Today, MMI has 100 properties scattered across the country. Seventeen of those properties are company-owned. The other 83, like the Seminole Club, are properties MMI will manage and staff.
McEwan said Seminole Club board members contacted MMI a few months ago about taking over all management aspects of the club. A Seminole Club employee, Linda Vaughn, put the board in contact with representatives from MMI.
“Linda used to work at the Holiday Inn Airport, which is one of our company-owned properties,” said McEwan. The board had a vision of what they wanted the club to be, so they decided to get a professional service to draft a business plan.”
This is the sixth club for MMI with the next closest being The Hampton at the St. Simons Island Golf Club in St. Simons, Ga.
In opting to go with MMI, Milne said they were getting a company that had the resources to handle both the public restaurant and the private club. Bomba had no trouble with the things that were simply aspects of running a day-to-day business, but those responsibilities made it difficult to also cater to The Seminole Club and its 100 members.
“The tenant had her own bills and money to make,” said Milne. “They were not as interested in serving the club and we should have know that in advance. That is not a fault of Bomba’s, they were paying rent and their bills. It was just too many different needs to service. We have decided on one company as a food servicer and manager for the public restaurant and the club.”
When the club reopens in a couple of weeks, both members and the public will notice a couple of differences. In addition to some remodeling downstairs, the menu will get an overhaul.
“We will have a more broad fare with a little more variety,” said Milne. “It will be made-to-order and a little lighter. We will not do anything to the upstairs, it is done. Downstairs, we won’t do anything major, just a little sprucing up. The building is in great condition and Michelle left it in real good shape.”
Although Mississippi Management will bring in and hire much of their own staff, Milne said a few employees of The Seminole Club and Bomba’s have been retained.
Milne and the rest of ownership group — which he describes as “a group of local individuals who love The Seminole Club and want to preserve it for the long term future” — reopened the club four years ago. The Seminole Club building was originally built in 1903 and in two years will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
“It’s one of only one or two other buildings in the city of that age still being used for its original purpose,” said Milne.
McEwan said plans are to have a dry run for about 50-75 people during lunch Nov. 26 and then open for business the next day, provided things run smoothly.
An official name for the new restaurant has not been determined, but the owners are considering Traditions or just, simply, The Seminole Club.