For eight years, Roux’s Catering owner Robert Williams spent Masters Week right in the heart of the action; his hospitality house, The Lodge on Heath, was near Berckmans Road, right across from the famed Augusta National.
Masters Week 2016 found Williams once again on Berckmans Road. The Lodge, however, was gone.
“I went over this year on Monday, just to get some merchandise and stuff like that, and I went and stood on the old grounds of where The Lodge was and it was really hard to even find that spot,” he said. “There were a couple of landmarks as far as trees, so I knew where essentially it was. It was kind of a heavy feeling.”
Shortly after Masters Week 2015, Williams sold The Lodge on Heath to the Augusta National, a sale that was a long time coming. What didn’t take very long was what happened to the building after the sale.
“To see it go was kind of like selling the house you grew up in. Most people can still go ride by their childhood home, but, within a month, it was gone,” Williams said. “It went from a living, breathing facility to sod in a matter of weeks, and that’s what’s hard, not to just be able to have some sort of connection.”
After all, Williams and his employees hosted Masters guests there for eight years. Williams said he even celebrated his 40th birthday there.
As nostalgic as Williams is, though, he’s also pragmatic
“We knew our days were numbered,” he shrugged. “I didn’t know when I woke up the first of 2015 that I knew we would be selling to Augusta National. It was something that, as that process started happening, it happened fairly rapidly but, for us, the road construction was going to be something that was going to have a major impact on our business. And when the Augusta National wants something they tend to get it.”
He also knows that with every end comes a new beginning.
Without missing a beat, Williams bought an old drug store on Boy Scout Road, renovated it and opened The Foundry at Rae’s Creek just in time for the first week in April of 2016.
“You’d never know that it was a CVS in a former life,” Williams laughed, sitting in a leather chair in front of an enormous fireplace at The Foundry. “When I first walked through here, it was all just a big open space and we really had to use some creativity to find the best way to make use of the facility.”
They seem to have done a fantastic job. Guests at The Foundry walk into a reception and lounge area with said fireplace and then through some sliding barn doors into an open dining area with exposed ceilings. At the far end of that room are accordion wood and glass doors that lead onto a covered patio with another giant fireplace and an outdoor kitchen.
“I don’t know what you’d call this,” he said of The Foundry’s style. “I guess if shabby chic is a term, then this may be industrial chic. I love the kind of sleek, modern, industrial feel that it has, but it’s still soft enough to work well for wedding receptions. It has a lot of those rustic touches with the reclaimed wood, but then it’s still very contemporary.”
Repeat Masters guests used to The Lodge on Heath gave The Foundry rave reviews. And while it’s still a bit of a well-kept secret, Williams said the word is starting to get around.
“I haven’t shown it that much because we really just opened Masters Week – just finished construction the week before Masters Week – so we haven’t had a whole lot of exposure just because we didn’t have a finished facility to show folks,” he said. “But every client I’ve shown it to has booked, so it says a lot about the need for a facility like this in Augusta and I think, for the modern bride, they aren’t looking for a facility that was the facility that their parents got married in that was another hotel style banquet room. This is a very modern looking space and I think for the young, modern bride, this is the kind of facility they’re looking for it. It definitely doesn’t feel like any of the other facilities in town and we hope that’s going to be part of the appeal.”
Other appealing aspects of The Foundry are its west Augusta location and its size. While Williams’ The Marbury Center downtown maxes out at about 250 people, The Foundry can hold up to about 400.
Then there’s the fact that it’s unique to this area.
“Brides are always looking for a facility that’s new and one of the things I get from a lot of brides, even with the Marbury Center, is, ‘I want to get married somewhere that my nine other friends didn’t get married,’” he said. “So we expect this to be a popular space for the next few years because it is a new facility. Not only is it new, it’s a very unique, interesting space. I think it’ll continue to be a popular facility from a location standpoint, and it’s just a really, really cool event space. Next year I think we’ll have our hands full with events as more and more people find out about this place.”
Opening The Foundry right when Roux’s Catering is turning 20 is, Williams says, validation that he’s doing something right.
“It’s just mind blowing that it’s something that just continues to move forward,” he said of his businesses. “At times it is overwhelming and at times it is very very humbling. It’s still a very demanding business and to still be relevant after 20 years in this town is such a huge hurdle to have overcome.”
Williams says he’s done that by providing folks good, restaurant quality food.
Originally a line cook at places like American Diner and Cadwallader’s, Williams says he still employs workers who’ve started out in restaurants. And while catering is much more demanding and can be much less creative that working in a restaurant, he still prides himself on turning out dishes that look good and taste good. He just has to do it on a much larger scale.
“The thought process behind everything we do is, ‘Okay, this is great. It tastes good, it looks good. But what if we have to make 2,000 of them?’” he explained. “I don’t want to tell the client, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that’ and it not being well executed. I want to be able to legitimately tell our client, ‘Yeah, we can do that’ and it’s going to be presented well, it’s going to taste good, it’s going to be the right temperature as opposed to just trying just anything. It’s got to be doable.”
It’s tough. Williams’ wife Natalie is an ICU night-shift nurse, which means the two barely see each other during the week.
“If we didn’t work together on the weekends we’d never see each other,” he laughed. “And oftentimes during the week, she’s gone to work before I get home so we may go a few days without seeing each other, which is probably another secret to our success.”
Despite the tough business he’s in, Williams said he wouldn’t change a thing and plans to stick around for a long, long time.
“I think it says something about those of us who continue to move forward in this industry, because it is a great industry and people should expect more out of their catering and get more out of their catering. We have tried to stay true to our ideals from day one. We wanted to provide the best quality food we possibly could,” Williams said. “I’m excited about what’s ahead of us. I’m excited about the next 20 years.”