The Revitalization of the Dobbins Consolidated Club

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kendra A. Ransum
  • 94th Airlift Wing

In 2020, a once bustling dining hall sat empty, its dining hall devoid of customers. Masked workers went about their jobs in the kitchen filled with food going to waste from the drop in their customer base.

The change occurred overnight. Staff went from interacting with smiling, sit-in customers to distributing to-go boxes to masked customers.

“The morale goes down tremendously,” said Sarah Gauthier, Consolidated Club cashier. “The employees here that we do have right now, it is like a family. It’s discouraging when you want to provide good customer service and there’s no one here to provide it to. We do want to be here.”

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the shutdown of many businesses – even military base facilities were not immune. At Dobbins Air Reserve Base, the local Consolidated Club was shut down for a few months.

The Club was initially closed completely in March 2020, but managed to open with limited operations in May 2020, said Melissa Hicks, the Club operations assistant.

The limited operations meant the Consolidated Club could only do carryout orders. Like many restaurants during the pandemic, these limited operations led to a loss in regular customers.

“We lost a lot of our bulk operation here,” Hicks said. “Customer-wise, it was retirees. They couldn’t come to the base. They stayed home because of COVID. I still haven’t seen any of them come back, so it’s kind of sad.”

As the pandemic began to subside, so did the on-base health restrictions. Combined with gaining new management, the Consolidated Club began trying innovative approaches to breathe new life into the restaurant. The restaurant aims to use its revitalized status to improve itself, starting by introducing new menu items and specials as well as the option to dine-in again.

Business is starting to pick up again at the Club, said Leigh Olson, a cook for the Dobbins Consolidated Club.

After putting food into to-go boxes for several months, he is glad to be serving food directly to the customers. Olson is a veteran and has about 18 years of cooking experience. He hopes to use his expertise in expanding the Club’s menu, specifically by testing dishes as limited-time specials.

The Consolidated Club tests new dishes as Friday specials. Based on customer feedback, popular specials can become permanent items on the menu. Some items were taken out of the menu, such as some sandwiches and wraps, in favor of more variety. The Friday chef’s specials are scheduled replace the former Fish Friday special.

“We’ll have a meeting a week or two in advance,” Olson said. “We’ll sit down as a team; we’ll canvas the local customers as well as the employees here and find out what’s going to work.”

Currently, the Dobbins Consolidated Club’s specials are Tuesday’s wings with endless fries, Wednesday’s soup of the day with a sandwich of choice and Friday’s chef special.

The new menu is still testing the waters, said Gauthier. The testing phase continues as regulars are returning to the base.

At the peak of the pandemic, the limited operations not only affected the customers, but the staff as well. They were unable to interact with customers as they had before, which took a toll on their operations.     

“Ultimately, you want your guest to have the best experience possible,” Olson said. “That’s when you can plate food and send it out to them. Putting things in a to-go tray and sending people out, you don’t have the same interaction with the guest, the same type of feedback. As far as that’s concerned, it is different, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting people fed in a timely, economical fashion. It was the best option for our guests as well as the staff here to make sure we sent good, hot to-go food out.”

Since base restrictions lifted, customers have returned to the Consolidated Club, now able to sit down at a table and eat.

“I am able to come out into the dining area and check in with people and see some of the familiar faces and see what they’re coming back for,” Olson said. “I do appreciate that time with the guests to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to take care of them.”

The restaurant also found a new sense of overall consistency compared to when it operated during the height of the pandemic.

“One week we were having the dining room open and the next week we had the dining room closed,” Hicks said. “There’s no consistency. When you look at customers, they’re like ‘Oh, I didn’t know the Club’s open!’ I wish people would give us a chance again. Just come in and try our food! We’re going to stay open and we’re not going to close early. At the end of the day, we’re just like any restaurant outside the gate.”

The Dobbins Consolidated Club gradually recovered from the challenges brought upon by the pandemic. Like many other restaurants affected by the pandemic, it takes time to fully bounce back from hardship.

“I’d just like to stress that we’re here and we’re open,” Gauthier said. “Some people still don’t know we’re open, to be honest. Just give us time. Let us get there. Hopefully, we can thrive again.”

The Club continues to serve the Airmen assigned to the base. Pandemic or not, the restaurant staff said they will keep serving their local military community with pride.

“I’m honored and blessed to be able to serve the military folks that work on Dobbins Air Reserve Base,” Olson said. “I’ve been doing this in uniform and now out of uniform for a while now and there’s no place I’d rather be. My most comfortable place and where I’m honored to be is taking care of the troops.”