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Front & Center: Spokane Club General Manager Harmukh ‘Molly’ Sandhu sees bright future for downtown Spokane facility

The Spokane Club general manager, Harmukh ‘Molly’ Sandhu, wants to build on the club’s legacy, envisioning a bustling facility and inclusive environment for the club’s members.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Club general manager, Harmukh ‘Molly’ Sandhu, wants to build on the club’s legacy, envisioning a bustling facility and inclusive environment for the club’s members. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

When Harmukh ‘Molly’ Sandhu became general manager at the Spokane Club in December, he saw potential to restore the storied meeting place back to its grandeur.

Sandhu envisions a bustling patio filled with folks enjoying the beautiful weather, updated hotel rooms with modern amenities, and a rooftop fitness area above the club’s existing athletic facility where members can participate in yoga, group fitness and other activities.

But most of all, he sees a club that provides engaging activities while fostering an inclusive environment to its members and employees.

“I just saw so many opportunities to really bring the club back to its previous glory,” Sandhu said. “We had really leaned out during the pandemic, trying to conserve membership and cash flow.”

“The managers of each department are really committed to providing a great experience to the membership,” he continued. “So I really felt that I’ll be able to succeed because of having such a strong team behind me.”

The Spokane Club, founded in 1890, has been a vital business and community resource for its members. Prominent Spokane architectural firm Cutter and Malmgren designed the Spokane Club’s historic Georgian Revival-style building, which was completed in 1910.

The Spokane Club hosts business, social networking and athletic events. It has more than 3,000 members and 125 employees.

The club offers fine dining at its private restaurant, a fitness and athletic center, banquet facilities, meeting rooms, the Georgian ballroom, catering service and a boutique hotel.

Members also get access to more than 30 private clubs nationwide as part of a reciprocal clubs program.

Sandhu has more than 17 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“The Spokane Club was very fortunate to have Molly join the team in this important point of our Club’s history,” Ross Blevins, chair of Spokane Club’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

“COVID has been a challenging time and we have a lot of hard work in front of us. Molly is just the right person to lead the charge, as he is not afraid to challenge the status quo and drive improvement every day.”

Fast track to hospitality

While growing up in India, Sandhu developed a love for golf.

“My whole plan was to get to the golf industry, because I love golf and was playing it in high school,” he said.

During Sandhu’s senior year of high school, his plans for a career in the golf industry were put on pause after his father received an application form in the mail for ITC Hotels’ WelcomLegionnaire Programme.

ITC Hotels is an India-based hotel chain that operates 14 properties under The Luxury Collection by Marriott International, according to the company’s website.

“They were doing this special hotel course,” Sandhu said. “Instead of waiting for you to finish your hotel management degree from a college, they were actually recruiting a small set of 10 to 12 kids, right from high school, and training them for four years as management trainees.”

“So by the time you’re 21, you’re graduating as a manager in Marriott, which puts you at least five years ahead of the average person who becomes a manager there,” Sandhu continued.

Sandhu was among 10 students selected for the program after a round of interviews.

The group of students learned cooking methods, and housekeeping, and received hands-on training at hotels.

“Then in the third year, you can select a specialization,” he said. “You can choose front office, food and beverage or housekeeping. I chose food and beverage.”

Sandhu began his hospitality career in butler services ITC Grand Central, A Luxury Collection Hotel in Mumbai, India. He rose through the ranks to food and beverage manager.

After Sandhu moved to Australia to pursue his master’s, his mentor, golf entrepreneur Greg Ramsay, introduced him to Craig Haltom, president of Oliphant Golf Management, a Wisconsin-based golf course builder and management company.

Sandhu worked on several projects for Oliphant Golf Management and moved to Chicago in 2020.

In 2021, he began working for KemperSports, a Northbrook, Illinois-based property and experience management company, which oversees operations for more than 100 sports, leisure and event facilities and destination resorts nationwide, including the Spokane Club.

Sandhu assisted KemperSports’ properties with installing new club management software.

“I would be the guy who would coordinate between the software company and the club to make sure everything goes smoothly, everyone is trained and it’s been set up properly,” he said. “I was essentially traveling to different states every month to different clubs doing that.”

‘A special place’

Sandhu was selected to serve as the Spokane Club’s interim general manager in September 2021, succeeding John O’Connor, who left for a management position at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Club leadership interviewed candidates across the nation for the general manager role, but struggled with finding a candidate with experience in all facets of retail, food and beverage and private club management, Sandhu said.

“My plan was to be here for one month and that kept stretching longer and longer,” Sandhu said. “Finally, it was December, and the regional executive of the area for KemperSports said, ‘Hey, do you want to keep doing this?’ ”

It was a big decision for Sandhu and his wife to relocate to Spokane after they had purchased a house in Chicago.

“My wife is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, so she would have to relocate and we have a baby,” Sandhu said. “But when she saw the area, she just really liked Spokane. It seemed like a safe place to raise a family. So she said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I said yes to the job.”

Sandhu, his wife, Morgan and their daughter, Aadira, packed up their home and drove cross-country from Chicago to Spokane with two dogs and a cat.

Sandhu said the rich history of the Spokane Club was a significant factor in accepting the general manager position.

“It just seemed like a very special place to start my operational career in America,” he said. “I’ve been in operations in India, but this is my first full-time operational opportunity in America. As I said, it’s just really a special place to do that.”

Creating a lasting legacy

Sandhu sees the Spokane Club as a gathering place for people to network, make friends and relax.

“Maybe that could be coming with your friends every Saturday after work to get a drink and hang out on the patio,” he said. “Or maybe coming out and doing a yoga class every morning.”

The Spokane Club is selling its Spokane Valley property and its corresponding land for $4.4 million to local developer Jordan Tampien, who will continue to operate it as a tennis club and build 106 residential units on a vacant portion of the 9-acre site at 5900 E. Fourth Ave.

The sale, expected to close by June 30, allows the Spokane Club to continue its legacy and eliminate all of its debt, including a $3.3 million loan, according to a Spokesman-Review article published in April.

By eliminating the loan, the Spokane Club “will be in a much stronger financial position to begin making reinvestments into the downtown facilities,” Blevins wrote in a message to members.

The Spokane Club purchased the Spokane Valley property when it had surplus cash, which went back into renovating the facility.

Over time, the Spokane Valley club did not generate enough revenue to sustain itself. Maintenance and upgrades for the downtown club were put on the back burner, Sandhu said.

Once the sale of the Spokane Valley property closes, the Spokane Club’s downtown location will likely undergo several upgrades, Sandhu said.

The club is allocating around a half million dollars toward new furniture, fixtures and repairing the exterior of its building, Sandhu said.

“We do want to continue focusing on making the building a little more environmentally friendly because a lot of our equipment is ancient,” he said. “We want to slowly start doing that so that we are using less resources.”

Sandhu aims to upgrade the club’s hotel rooms, including addition of wireless chargers, smart TVs, study desks and comfortable seating.

Sandhu would also like to add new family-oriented amenities and possibly create a rooftop fitness area enclosed above the club’s existing athletic facility for group fitness classes, pickleball and yoga.

“I just want the Spokane Club to be the best in its league. We aren’t competing with anyone else, but we want to be best for who we are,” he said.

Sandhu is looking to add more perks and benefits for members. The club recently began offering free parking for members and extended child care hours, he said.

Sandhu said he wants to draw inspiration from the luxury hotels for which he worked to create a unique experience for Spokane Club members.

“I’ve seen some places do amazing things and I just want to re-create those here, but at the same time, keep its legacy,” he said. “I don’t want to change everything out, but if there’s a place that had amazing cocktail offerings in the bar, I want to replicate that here, so our members enjoy it.”

Another priority is community involvement by showcasing local artists, making event space available to charities or hosting events, Sandhu said.

“Engaging with the community is something I really want to do,” he said.

Laying down roots

Sandhu and his family are looking forward to laying down roots in Spokane. Sandhu and his wife, Morgan, purchased a home on the West Plains and are expecting another baby in September.

“It’s really funny because I’ve met so many people who would tell me, ‘I came to Spokane in 1987 for a summer vacation and never left.’ Hopefully, it becomes the same for us ,” Sandhu said.

“We feel settled and we feel this is a great place to start the next chapter for our family.”

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