Iwona Sterk has forged a reputation as one of Metro New York’s and the nation’s leading club managers. Since 2016, she has served as the General Manager of Westchester’s Old Oaks Country Club. She is recognized as a motivator and relationship-builder, with strong organization skills, great work ethic, and commitment to excellence.
Prior to Old Oaks, she served as the GM at Elmwood Country Club in White Plains. Iwona Sterk has operated restaurants at the Doral Arrowwood hotel conference center, Hotel Macklowe, and Hilton International’s Vista International Hotel at the World Trade Center. Among Sterk’s innovative approaches to her jobs have been her ability to create unique solutions. She has never forgotten her roots in her native Poland. So for a number of years, she recruited staff in that country.
Iwona Sterk sat down with Total Food Service’s Joyce Appelman to talk about her role at the prestigious golf club.
As a child, was there someone that had an impact on you getting into the business?
As a child, I had grown up in Poland under very different circumstances than what currently exists there now. My father, whom I had watched persevere and thrive under a regime that would smolder such ideas of success, was the one that inspired me most at a young age. He had held various hospitality roles throughout his life, where he had strived to instill a sense of gratitude for everything that we have been fortunate to receive and always provide the highest level of service at any occupation that you hold.
Can you talk about some of the mentors along the way that had an impact on your career?
I have been blessed to cross paths with people from nearly every socio-economic circle from many international backgrounds. Having held various roles within the Hilton International Hotels Corporation, I had been exposed to various managerial mentors at the start of my career. These highly ambitious, refined and driven individuals help mold my mindset and own career ambitions within the hospitality field.
What brought you to your current position at your club?
Early in my life, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to work for Hilton International at the World Trade Center. There I discovered my passion for fine dining and global cuisine. I was quickly hooked on the fast-paced and dynamic lifestyle that seamlessly integrated a meticulous attention to detail, customer service at the highest level with the culinary mastery.
As my passion matured, I was granted the opportunity to utilize my managerial skill set to transition from the global scale of international hospitality to the niche and exclusive world of country club life. Similar to an investment banker transitioning to a fund, this opportunity came with higher stakes and exposure to clientele with highly refined pallets in all aspects of life. This again revitalized my passion to further develop as an endless student of the world of fine dining.
At this stage in my career, my greatest attraction to club management would be the gratification I get from witnessing a food & beverage operation seamlessly working at the benefit of customers who have a great appreciation for perfection. The ever-evolving global culinary scene keeps me stimulated to strive to remain at the forefront of our industry while catering to the expectations of the country club clientele.
How would you describe the needs of your customers?
To understand the needs of my customers, I should help address who they are. Specifically, my customers are leaders of industry, world travelers, philanthropists, socialites, foodies, families and friends. They are accustomed to the finest that hospitality has to offer and require this same level in an atmosphere that they can call an extension of their own home. Rather than rattling off the specific needs of those fortunate enough to be members of Old Oaks, I’ll leave this as saying they require comfort and courtesy without ever getting stagnant.
How have those needs evolved and what has your company done to respond to those needs?
Membership needs are ever evolving with expectations for the staff to be in the know on nutrition, all the latest trends and cultural priorities.
There has been a shift in recent years for a greater emphasis on nutrition, without the substitute for taste. At Old Oaks, we have a 5-acre organic farm that helps us closely monitor the produce that we serve in our dining outlets, along with constantly reviewing our recipes to allow for health-conscious alternatives to be utilized.
Being so close to Manhattan, there is a strong innovative culinary focus. Our membership is constantly in the know, of the newest and greatest offerings. This result in our teams’ constant research of what the latest trends are and what anchor stone restaurants are continuously doing right.
Social awareness has only increased over my entire career. Our club has a strong community focus, serving in local soup kitchens and pantries from the produce that we produce on the farm. This need is ever evolving with community outreach in the form of financial donations is prevalent in many of our hosted functions.
Crystal ball. What’s on your agenda?
Success for my family, my daughter, my son, their families and my grandchildren. Anything worth doing is worth doing for the family.