Q&A Pete Spike, general manager, Delaware North Sportservice, foodservice provider for Target Field, Minneapolis

When Minneapolis' Target Field opened last spring, it became known as more than just the home of the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team. The 40,000-seat venue's foodservice program showed just how far stadium fare has come over the years.

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Stadium menus have become more diverse and a big part of that is ethnic fare. Here, chefs prepare Asian menu items at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Target Field's foodservice is run by Delaware North Cos. Sportservice, a food, beverage and retail management firm that provides concessions, upscale catering and fine dining operations at professional sporting venues, entertainment complexes and convention centers across the United States and Canada.

 

In addition to traditional ballpark fare, which also has been taken up a notch, Delaware North partnered with some of Minneapolis' well-known food manufacturers and restaurants. The result is a concessions program that includes a bevy of signature offerings and local favorites. "In creating a diverse menu, we have done things differently," says Pete Spike, Sportservice's general manager. "We've expanded on ballpark food significantly."

Spike has been with Sportservice for 14 years, helping oversee foodservice programs at eight different venues during this time. He oversees Target Field's 29 fixed concession stands, 66 food and beverage carts, in-seat service, two themed restaurants open to all fans, several large clubs and suite foodservice.

The ballpark's eight concessions themes include Mill City Grille, which includes steak sandwiches and walleye fish fingers; Hennepin Grille, which offers burgers, hot dogs, fries and chicken tenders; Frankie V's Italian, providing a variety of pizza, calzones and Italian chopped salad; North Shore Creamery, serving soft-serve ice cream; Halsey's Sausage Haus, which offers chili, wild rice soup, sausage and hot dogs; Senor Smoke's, providing empanadas, nachos, burritos and tacos; Taste of Twins Territory, which offers brats, hot dogs and pretzels; State Fair Classics, offering fair favorites like kabobs and cheese curds; and Twins Brews, which provides craft and premium beers.

FE&S spoke with Spike to discuss the development of Target Field's concession operations, the unique aspects of the ballpark's offerings and how its equipment supports speed of service.

FE&S: What is unique about Target Field's stadium concessions operations?

PS: We are recognized for our different style of service. We focus a lot on preparing fresh items. People at Target Field can watch their product being prepared, and this provides visuals in back of the concessions stands. Nothing here is pre-wrapped. We assemble to order. Our three main kitchens create most of the food. In planning our kitchens and foodservice facilities, the Twins worked with consultant John DePaola, managing principal for Foodservice Resources out of Fredericksburg, Va.

FE&S: Please describe your signature menu items.

PS: When we opened with preseason games last spring, we needed to react to popular demand. After tapping into local and regional markets to see what food and brands people enjoyed, we decided to partner with local restaurants and suppliers so we could incorporate these items into our operation. We partnered with Minneapolis' Kramarczuk Sausage Co., a 55-year-old, family-owned manufacturer of bratwurst, Polish and Hungarian sausage. We initially prepared the sausage on 3-ft. flat top grills at two portable carts but, due to the popularity, we added this product to two more cart locations. We sold more than 80,000 lbs. of sausage this past season.

We also partnered with The Loon Café and J.D. Hoyt's, Minneapolis restaurants, to serve Hoyt's grilled Cajun pork chop and the Loon's Pecos River Red chili.

Our most surprising partnership was with Murray's Steakhouse, another well-known city restaurant. We collaborated to develop a signature steak sandwich for our Mill City Grill concessions locations and it was so popular they ended up putting it on their restaurant's menu. We averaged about 1,100 of these sandwiches per game in seven concessions locations, which is phenomenal. This was a tribute to how we were set up for success with our equipment.

We also worked with local supermarket chains Lund's and Byerly's to provide their wild rice soup during the colder months. The soup was being offered at three Halsey's Sausage Haus concession stands, and we expanded its sales to hawkers for seat service due to its popularity.

Another partnership was with Vincent — A Restaurant, an acclaimed French eatery in the city. Its Vincent Burger, which is made with Angus beef stuffed with braised short rib and smoked Gouda cheese, is sold at six Hennepin Grille concession stands.

Four different hot dogs are provided by Minneapolis' Schweigert Meats. These include the Original Twins Dog, made from the same recipe as the Twins' first hot dog; the quarter-pound beef Twins Big Dog; the old-fashioned Dugout Dog; and the extra-long Dinger Dog.

FE&S: How does the foodservice equipment support the production?

PS: A lot of menu items need to be prepped in advance. We have three large production kitchens dedicated to our suites and the Champions and Metropolitan Clubs. Sandwiches are prepped in these kitchens, as well. This allows us to deliver fresh food and increase our sales.

The 2,700-sq.-ft. Champion's Club kitchen is located on the service level and includes a rotisserie grill that's visible from the dining room. The Metropolitan Club kitchen on the club level is 2,800 sq. ft. and includes a number of combi ovens and blast chillers.

Target Field's 3,200-sq.-ft. suites kitchen is centrally located by the stadium's 54 suites and also includes combi ovens and blast chillers.

Most of our nine themed stands contain combi ovens. Grill stands have flat top griddles, char grills, fryers and steam wells to dispense hot food. Our Taste of Twins stands, which offer traditional ballpark food, have roller grills for tube meats, popcorn poppers and pretzel warmers. Each suite has three induction warmers for use on the buffet lines, eliminating the need for sterno and chafing dishes. This has saved labor, since it provides consistent heat that doesn't burn out.

FE&S: What technology is invaluable for stadium foodservice?

PS: We have combi ovens in more than 80 percent of our concession stands, and these units have changed our menu for the better. We can now keep up with fresh assembly. We no longer have to wait for roller grills to cook hot dogs. These ovens allow us to cook food faster, whether we're steaming or using convection heat. They are a nice addition that has allowed us to cook in advance, but still assemble and hold product on site.

FE&S: What attributes do you look for when purchasing equipment?

PS: Equipment is an investment, and you get what you pay for. With this ballpark startup, there were three areas that were most important to us. Working with quality partners that have great reputations and stand behind their products was key. Also, because Target Field is a LEED-certified building, all equipment that could be is Energy Star rated. In addition, warranties were a factor in purchasing equipment. By the same token, we realize we need to do our part to maintain the life of the equipment. We have a strong preventative maintenance program in place to make sure equipment is cleaned and shut down properly.

FE&S: What plans do you have for the coming year for your foodservice program?

PS: We really haven't dialed into anything new yet. We're hoping to expand our menu, but it is so expansive now that it will be a matter of deciding what to add and what to remove. We always look for the next best thing. There also are plans to expand our in-seat program, since people want quick service for specialty items. We will consider creating new items and expanding ballpark fare or adding amenities to concepts. We also will continue shaping our portable program so we can create more storage and support for these outlets to be more self-sufficient.

FE&S: What do you predict for the stadium foodservice segment in the future?

PS: Because each stadium location is different, it's not possible to impose one thing across all boundaries and be successful. In major league baseball, there are franchises that do very well and others that need to reinvent themselves to attract and retain fans. Some clubs that are struggling are going to inclusive sections in which fans pay one price for a ticket that includes unlimited food and beverages to provide more value for fans. Fortunately, we've had a strong year and anticipate another one, so we don't need to take this route.

We plan on continuing to incorporate partnerships into our operation for 2011, maintaining our momentum. We are looking at the regional market to see if there are other iconic offerings we can include in the menu. Today, it's as much about the food as the overall experience. We want to help make Target Field the place to be.
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