A Unique partnership between Helms College and
The Pinnacle Club will further Augusta’s reputation as a hub of culinary Arts and education
Revitalization seems to be on every corner in downtown Augusta.
A new generation of innovation is spurring re-openings, renovation and redesign of several iconic buildings, answering a call from Augusta’s growing population and awakening the historic riverfront Garden City.
But a predominant characteristic Augusta sees through every era of revitalization is the ability to maintain its unique traditional feel of culture and history.
One building that is part of this tradition is known today as the Augusta University Building, located on Broad Street. Inside this building is the storied Pinnacle Club, which has its own rich history dating back to the 1960s when William S. Morris III pioneered the private, members-only mainstay on the building’s tip top 17th floor.
In October 2018, all 10,000 square feet of the 17th floor Pinnacle Club was placed under new management and is now being leased by Edgar’s Hospitality Group, a branch of Helms College.
But this is no ordinary management overhaul.
While the club will still be guided by a board of member services as it has since its inception, the new model comes with a twist, opening up some big opportunities that leaders say could make Helms College and Augusta a destination for the culinary arts and hospitality.
Helms College President James K. Stiff said the institute is planning to add an associate degree in club and resort operations to their course selection. The degree offers the unique opportunity to gain real-world experience in a fully operational private club. It’s a new and innovative educational opportunity not offered anywhere else.
The Pinnacle Club will operate with a full-time professional staff, rotating students in for applied learning quarterly to complete requirements for their degree.
For example, one group of students in the Restaurant Techniques class spends time at The Pinnacle Club’s back of house working in the kitchen, while a second group works the front of house.
“Halfway through the quarter they will flip, so that every student is getting a 360 total experience of what it means to be successful in a hospitality venue, both as a culinary and as a hospitality agent of the enterprise,” Stiff said.
As an added bonus, members of The Pinnacle Club enjoy access to 2,500 other clubs scattered across the United States. And those clubs and resorts need professional and trained staff that Helms College will now be able to provide.
“This will probably be one of the most unique offerings of any culinary school,” said Tripp Harrison, Senior Vice President of Edgar’s Hospitality Group. “Having the opportunity to apply your trade in a true, genuine private club experience is completely unique to the industry. That definitely will be something that will attract prospective students.”
And Harrison said Edgar’s Hospitality Group is continuing their education innovation through catering, having recently taken The “Pinnacle Club experience” track side for its members at the Steeplechase. With every venture is another opportunity for Helms College to offer applied learning for its students under the guidance of professionals in the culinary education field.
Stiff also said credit is owed to the college’s staff, which includes top talent and leadership in the culinary education field, including Peter Vossenberg, executive chef and chef instructor who was recently voted the American Culinary Federation Chef Educator of the year for the Southeastern U.S. Vossenberg oversees applied learning at the Pinnacle Club.
In addition, Vossenberg’s wife, Kathleen Vossenberg, is also a professional chef and former Dean of Culinary Education at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando. Mrs. Vossenberg now heads Helms College’s hospitality division as director of education.
Helms College also recruited now Senior Vice President of Education, Dr. Gary Markowitz, who served 25 years as the President of Kaiser University in Miami.
It’s all a step in the direction for Helms College, which includes a School of Hospitality in Augusta, complete with dorms and students.
Stiff attributes the draw of prospective students to the college’s offering of unique real-world experiences to partnerships with prestigious establishments to include the Augusta National, The Ritz Carlton at Lake Oconee and now, The Pinnacle Club.
Stiff says leadership at each of these serve on the college’s Hospitality Advisory Council and help design the curriculum, which heavily incorporates applied learning.
“We are building something that is going to meet the needs of people locally, but we think that it’s going to be a magnet for students to come and study here from all over the U.S. and beyond,” Stiff said.
The new managers of The Pinnacle Club also brought in an update to the 17th floor.
Edgar’s Hospitality Group worked with Cheatham Fletcher Scott Architects along with Roberson and Company Construction to update and open up areas of the club.
“We wanted to keep some of the history of the club while also introducing some newer elements that will be appealing to both our existing membership as well as the future citizens of Augusta, and the folks who haven’t met us yet,” Harrison said. “We are proud to have partnered with them.”
The renovation included the removal of a few walls in the Overlook Lounge, adding a fully stocked bar and 10 bar stools, a few flat-screen televisions and outlets under the seating areas.
In the Broadview room, named appropriately for its bird’s eye view overlooking Broad Street and the iconic Miller Theater, doors have been added to allow an option for private receptions for members.
In the Crystal Room, chandeliers were lifted to open up the space. Stiff said the room can be used for buffet lunches, accommodating about 100 people, with a panoramic view of the Savannah River.
Several of the club’s smaller, more intimate dining rooms now have doors to allow members to close off rooms for professional or personal gatherings.
“We kept the private dining rooms more of a Southern traditional look and feel,” Stiff said, complete with large family-sized dining tables and chairs. And each room is donned with a portrait of its namesake. The Morris Room, named for William S. Morris III, is now a meeting space equipped with live-stream conferencing capabilities, with the ability to transform the room into a private dining area.
With the redesign, Stiff said they hope to draw in new members.
“The goal is to start serving cocktails in here at 3:30 p.m., so we are hoping people will come up here with their laptops, plug in, have that 3:45 cocktail and catch the view and finish their work,” Stiff said.
A seat with a view will not be hard to find on the 17th floor with an exterior wrapped entirely in windows, overlooking all of downtown Augusta, the Savannah River and even North Augusta.
“If you have ever seen a sunset here, it’s hard to beat,” Harrison said. “Even in some places, someone mentioned the other night, it’s even better than a sunset at the beach; it’s absolutely gorgeous.”
With a successful grand re-opening under their belt, Stiff said the added venue allows them to open up the number of students they can accommodate applied learning experiences. In total, the Augusta Campus of Helms College can now add The Pinnacle Club to Edgar’s Grille, which is the school’s main restaurant venue on Washington Road and The Snelling Center, which is located next door and where the students currently have their applied learning.
“Having a new venue allows us to have a better quality experience for the students, the staff and the guests, in terms of spreading the students out when it comes to their applied learning as part of their curriculum,” Stiff said.
It’s a perfect concoction of professional prestige in culinary education paired with applied learning experience puts Helms College in an education innovation sweet spot to help make Augusta a destination for the culinary arts and hospitality.
Photos by Hillary Odom
Article appears in the April 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.
Article appears in the February/March 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.