Jason Apfelbaum (right) and two of his staff showing off their motivational poker chips in front of the Old Lyme Inn.
Ever since starting his culinary career, Jason Apfelbaum had dreamed of running his own inn. This summer, that dream came true when he was hired to be the new General Manager of the Old Lyme Inn.
“When I saw the ad, I thought of it as the universe calling my name,” said Apfelbaum. “Both the owners [Ken and Chris Kitchings] and I were keen on bringing the Inn to its full potential.”
Apfelbaum is no stranger to the food and beverage business. After earning his Master’s degree in Culinary Arts and Management at the Institute of Culinary Education, he founded his own catering business, Chef & Company, in New York City. His company became very successful, catering 30 to 40 events a day for large companies such as Google, Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Coach, CBS, and NBC.
Later, Apfelbaum lent his talents to the Morgan Hotel Group, redeveloping their food and beverage program. He was responsible for the operations of two full-service restaurants, a nightclub, and a rooftop lounge, generating over a 300% gain in profits for the hotel chain.
After nothing but success in the Big Apple, Apfelbaum was ready to leave it all for a chance to take on the Old Lyme Inn.
Two days after moving to Old Lyme in July, Apfelbaum gathered the staff for a meeting. He showed them a Youtube video of motivational speaker Gian-Paul Gonzalez, whose “All In” speech became the rallying cry for the New York Giants as they made their way to the Super Bowl during the 2011 season. (Click here to view the video.)
“In poker, when you have a great hand, you push your pot all in,” said Apfelbaum, quoting Gonzalez. “I want my staff giving 100 percent — stepping up and bringing the best of themselves every day.”
As Gonzalez did in the video, so Apfelbaum gave each staff member a poker chip and asked them to write their initials on one side and the date on the other. Workers at the Old Lyme Inn have their poker chip on them at all times, symbolizing their full commitment to their customers and to each other. Ask any waiter, chef, or busboy for their chip and they will pull it out of their jacket pocket and show you.
Apfelbaum sees his business model like an inverted triangle. Rather than people working for him, he is working for everyone else, doing what he has to for the Inn.
He told his staff, “I now work for you. What do you need to for this business to be successful.”
Apfelbaum believes that, just like the Giants, everyone at the Old Lyme Inn has to work as a team and support one another. Everyone should be each other’s greatest fan.
“I think everyone should treat everyone else like their grandma,” says Apfelbaum. “If you saw your grandma carrying a heavy bag, you wouldn’t just watch … you would say, ‘Oh Grandma, let me take care of that.’ At the Old Lyme Inn, we need to constantly be asking, ‘What can I do for you?’”
Chef Jacob Ennis
Apfelbaum hopes that this team spirit will make the Inn a place of “inclusive exclusivity.” He wants entering the Inn to have both the comfortable feeling of coming home, and the alluring appeal of going somewhere new.
“I want to forge emotional connections and lasting memories with every customer that walks through the door,” says Apfelbaum. “People will forget what you do and forget what you say, but they will never forget how they feel.”
Apfelbaum promises that everything will be ready by Oct. 1 — and, in keeping with that promise, just yesterday the Inn announced the arrival of a new executive chef, Jacob Ennis. Chef Ennis was previously with Relais & Chateaux at the Five Star / Five Diamond rated White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, and The Horned Dorset Primavera Resort in Rincon, Puerto Rico.
Chef Ennis was named “The Best Chef in the West” by Viva Mayaguez Magazine and the Inn is billing his arrival as a “game changer” for not only the Inn, but the entire community. Apfelbaum explains, “The Inn is now positioned to offer the best hospitality, accommodations, Jazz (at the Sidedoor) and gourmet cuisine.”
He continues, “Chef Ennis’ menus will reflect “farm to table” cuisine that is approachable and close to the source. His passion for cooking is enhanced via all four seasons … taking advantage of what’s readily available and market fresh.”
Apfelbaum concludes, “Great service is a story; it has a beginning, middle and end,” adding, “We need to deliver on all three.”
From now on, the check at the Inn will be dropped with a piece of bright, lime green cotton candy to represent a refreshing, new start. In fact, Apfelbaum insists on calling the Old Lyme Inn the “New Lyme Inn” because, he says with a cheerful smile, “It’s a new day here.”
For more information or to make a reservation, visit www.oldlymeinn.com or call 860-434-2600.