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River Oaks quarterly review leads to changes at Cottage Grove golf course

Matt Yasgar prepares for dinner at Eagles Bar and Grill. (Bulletin photo by Katie Nelson)

River Oaks Golf Course has been under Parks and Recreation Department control for a full quarter now, after being managed by the city council for several months and Administration before that.

Though staff said without a full golf season under their belts it's hard to compare how well they're doing, they do have some ideas to change and improve the business for the next quarter, especially for Eagles Bar and Grill.

The transition to the Park Department was meant to help change the business model at the golf course and to start turning around the amenity's finances. So far, trends show its remaining just inside the red. Audited financial reports from the last decade show an overall net loss of about $375,000. Each year from 2011 through 2014 showed net losses, though there was a slight net gain in 2015.

So far net revenue for the first quarter of 2017 has been negative, but staff said historically quarters two and three are where the most revenue comes in.

"The whole facility is not successful if all three are not successful," City Administrator Charlene Stevens said. "We feel we have not had a true golf season yet that we can evaluate. What does the course look like and the Eagles look like when the weather's good?"

Finance director Robin Roland said though 2016 numbers were ultimately negative, given that the business was changing and the course received record amounts of rain, it was alright.

"It was a very good result given the situation we were under," she said. "It says a lot about the strides that were made last year, and those can be built upon."

Overall, staff is optimistic about the direction River Oaks and Eagles is heading.

"We're better off today than we were several months ago," Parks director Zac Dockter said. "There's still a lot of work to do."


Scott Merkel and James Warrington were hired as executive sous chefs last May. When Merkel resigned in January — at the same time council was handing off its control of the facility — city recreation director Molly Pietruszewski stepped in to fill the vacuum as an interim manager.

Dockter said they're "getting by" with just Warrington as sous chef, and they plan to get through the golf season with this staffing model.

"The manager and executive sous are working well together," he said in March. "Molly's done a wonderful job, and James has provided a ton of assistance."

Other parks employees have been covering extra duties from ice arena to golf to maintenance due to the staffing gaps.

"We're kind of afloat right now; folks (are) crossing all over the place covering gaps," Dockter said. "It's something new, something exciting."

They have also had some challenges with Eagles restaurant staff.

"We're still trying to build up staff," Stevens said. "On average we have turnover of eight to 10 people a year. Over the last year or so, we've had about double that."

Pietruszewski said they are in a better position for the upcoming summer season, with several applications in hand.


Staff hopes changes in the menu will help profitability in their business model.

So far the only goal consistently met on a goal sheet created last fall is alcoholic beverages.

They have decided to make some menu changes based on the first quarter, including scrapping the build-your-own burger program.

"Build a burger is a good idea in concept, ... but you don't really have the efficiency in the kitchen," Stevens said. "(With the revised menu) there's still the ability to customize, but less of everything being customized."

She said the menu changes are partially coming in response to customer feedback they've received.

"I think (the reaction) is mixed to be honest," she said. "What we're working on is to get a consistent level of service delivery as well as consistent level of the quality of food. ... Some of the changes the chef is recommending are in some ways simplifying the menu and in some ways expanding it."

Pietruszewski said they also launched a small grab-and-go menu to cater to golfers.

"It's a lot of pre-made, wrapped, ready to go meals," she said. "The goal is two, three minutes (waiting time)."

The call ahead option for golfers is also still available.

Looking into the future, one option Mayor Myron Bailey said he'd especially like to see is a Sunday brunch.

"I think we want to get there someday, because I think that's the right thing to do is not be open Sunday night," Dockter said.