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Center Club Orange County reinvents itself for the next generation

Center Club Orange County reinvents itself for the next generation
Center Club Orange County reinvented itself with updated gathering places and meeting rooms. The goal is to attract young executives. (Courtesy of Center Club Orange County)

Ask Shahin Vosough about the "reinvented" Center Club Orange County and he likes to quote that famous line from Oldsmobile.

"This is not your father's club," the general manager for Center Club says.

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That's clear as you sit in the Encore Room. There's nothing stuffy or even traditional about it. It's like a campus coffee shop, Vegas lounge and resort dining room all rolled into one.

There is chatter, people-watching and men and women pecking away at their computers while charging their phones right at the table next to their Tuna Poke Raw Bowl. Servers know your name and just how you like your coffee, or barrel-aged Manhattan, or almond milk smoothie. A chalk board next to a sleek granite bar tells you what eight craft beers are on tap that day.

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The Center Club, in Costa Mesa, is one of two private city clubs in Orange County. The Pacific Club in Newport Beach is the other.

Club Corp. owns the Center Club as well as Coto de Caza Golf & Raquet Club, Aliso Viejo Country Club and Old Ranch in Seal Beach. The Encore Room, management wants to make clear, is not the cornerstone of their "renovation," but their "reinvention." Their goal is to take the social club into the future; attract the next generation, the emerging leaders.

Focus groups of potential members were formed — and followed — to see how they spent their days.

The conclusion: Today's young executives — more mobile than ever with their laptops and smartphones — are looking for an office away from the office, a desk that doubles as a dining space and is smack in the center of the action.

When the Center Club was founded in 1985 by Henry T. Segerstrom, its purpose was to provide a place for executive leaders to mix over cocktails or a meal in a posh social setting. It was a place for handshake deals, maybe, but not necessarily work.

"The original club was designed to be a dining club," Vosough says. "We've changed to a lifestyle club — to cater to our members' needs on a daily basis."

The club still has a formal dining room, but it is a smaller space with birdcage chandeliers. Most of the action now takes place in the Encore Room, which used to be the formal dining room.

"Imagine the old Titanic," Vosough says. "Everything got a face-lift: The food. The ambiance. The programming."

A 103-inch flat screen TV (volume down) shows non-stop news programs in front of a massive purple velvet tufted sectional. There's a futuristic phone charging locker (glowing neon blue), communal tables for networking, small dining tables with leather club chairs for power hosting and a wall of wine lockers. The decor is contemporary — think Jonathan Adler.

Vosough also threw open the kitchen doors. Just like at home where you can open your fridge at any time, you can order something to eat or drink any time, from 7 a.m. to closing.

"There used to be a formal breakfast," he says. "And then the room closed and reopened for lunch. And then it closed and reopened for dinner. It was the old-fashioned."

Menus were recast too, reflecting today's farm-to-table sensibility and lighter fare. English trained chef Lewis Butler, who was former executive chef of the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach and spent 18 years with the Four Seasons, "refreshes" the menu every other week. Wine dinners have been added and beer luncheons.

Vosough's vision is for members to start their day here with breakfast.

"I compare it to homeroom in high school," he says. "This is their hub. 'I'm not sure what I'm gonna do today but I'm gonna start out at the Club and I'm gonna figure it out.' "

Some members, though, wind up staying half the day, working from the club, and taking their meals and meetings there.

Boardrooms, titled Earth, Wind and Fire, are equipped with technology for PowerPoints and video-conferencing.

The Wind boardroom also has picture window views of a pond with sculpture fountains, as does the club's Symphony Ballroom. There also are smaller private rooms for taking meetings.

Rachel Svoboda is one of those members who sometimes spends the day at the club. A friend invited her to join the club about a year ago, but she used to go there as a kid with her grandfather and thought not.

"It was grandfather-ish and old," says Svoboda, the president of Sunday Brunch Agency, a boutique marketing firm.

One day, she went in as a guest.

"I thought, 'Oh, wow, they got it. This is for me.' It's youthful and energetic and modern. Instead of 'Let's go meet at Starbucks,' you can power host at the Center Club. It's sophisticated."

The reinvention also includes a philanthropy arm, Center Club Cares.

"How can we better connect and be a part of our community?" Vosough asked himself.

One or two local charities are selected each year. A Hops and Vines fundraiser set for Sept. 28 will raise money for Working Wardrobes. Tickets are available to the public.

"Our chef will produce a great culinary experience, showcasing us as that foodie place," Vosough says.

The club has netted over 200 new memberships since the reinvention, bringing total membership to about 1,000, according to Vosough.

The fastest growing group is members under age 39 and women.

Center Club membership has two categories: Executive is priced at $309 and Young Executive costs $229. There is a $1,000 initiation fee.

Member benefits include full access to Center Club Orange County as well as access and complimentary benefits at over 300 properties nationwide.

Founding members, Vosough says, are embracing the changes.

"I was preparing for a 50-50 split. The club industry is very traditional, and the last to change but we have had a 95% acceptance."

There is one thing that has not changed.

"We follow a simple philosophy," he says. "Yes is the answer. What is the question?"

The Center Club is located at 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; (714) 662-3414.

LORI BASHEDA is a contributor to Times Community News.

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