Keeneland sits resplendent in the Kentucky bluegrass, exuding old-world grandeur and timelessness— a jewel in the world of Thoroughbred racing.
Queen Elizabeth once visited the horses there, and many other dignitaries and horse racing royalty have passed through the richly appointed venues, watched the beautiful Thoroughbreds race around an immaculate oval track, or have bid at auctions where legendary race trainers met their future Thoroughbred stars.
And at the heart of the Keeneland experience, which began with its inception in 1936, is a little thing called “southern hospitality.”
In this week’s Q&A with a Boxerbrand Menu Cover customer, Keeneland Hospitality’s public dining manager Marcia Pulcini discusses the behind-the-scenes effort to provide exceptional meals to the thousands of guests who flock their venues.
Q: How many venues exist on the Keeneland property?
Eleven. We can seat a total of 3,500 people at one time in all of our venues, and there can be as many as 30,000 on the property during the height of our season. Like right now, we’re in the middle of our busy season. In the month of April and in October we have live racing. And then in January, September, and November, we hold our Thoroughbred auctions.
Q: Venues are not your typical restaurant.
No! We have two areas that are Clubhouses, meaning they are reserved for members only, and guests or friends of the members. Almost every area still requires a reservation. We also have other areas that can seat large groups, up to 500. And we offer three buffets and bars.
I’ve been here for 19 years, and can tell you that the food service industry is never boring! My job as public dining manager is to oversee three managers who oversee teams of sub-managers who run the individual rooms. We operated like a well-oiled machine; it’s pretty amazing.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in running a multi-venue facility of this size?
The startup of the business in April can be challenging because a large portion of our staff is seasonal. But people are loyal to Keeneland, and many come back year after year, which is a real blessing. We love our seasonal people. About 70 percent come back year after year, and they love it here, and make the work fun.
Q: Keeneland Hospitality recently brought noted Southern California executive chef Marc Therrien on board.
He’s made the menu more local than it’s ever been before. Everything is fresher. And more items are made from scratch. I’ve heard him say he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, he just wants everything to taste and look great.
Q: What are the time-honored classics on the Keeneland menu?
We have a Kentucky bread pudding that people love, which has a Maker’s Mark bourbon sauce in it. And we also serve a popular Kentucky burgoo, which is a very flavorful stew that we’re famous for. People come back for that, and for our corned beef.
Q: How do you sum up the Keeneland dining experience?
It is very much about tradition. It’s classic, southern hospitality. We are called Keeneland Hospitality, and that’s what it’s all about. — Keeneland Hospitality uses Linen Naturals in its restaurant menu presentation.