Passing The Snack Test

At Boston's TD Garden, Frito-Lay Test Kitchen provides variety for fans, feedback for Delaware North Sportservice

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: February 27, 2018

Fans at TD Garden have enjoyed a variety of new tastes at the Frito-Lay Test Kitchen, though Cheetos Popcorn, center, remains the favorite. (Courtesy Delaware North Sportservice)

From the moment the Frito-Lay Test Kitchen opened on the main concourse of Boston's TD Garden, the Cheetos Popcorn — popcorn combined with Cheetos, tossed in a Cheetos-flavored coating — hasn't left the menu.

Over the last roughly 18 months, though, that hasn't been the case with every item there.

The stand launched in fall 2016 because TD Garden concessionaire Delaware North Sportservice considered the concept of a test kitchen featuring a frequently changing menu as an opportunity to continue offering fans something new over the course of the season, said Tim Townsell, Delaware North Sportservice general manager. (Delaware North also owns and operates the arena.)

During sponsorship conversations, Texas-based Frito-Lay expressed interest in partnering its research and development and culinary teams with Sportservice for "ideas and recipes, a perfect marriage of a test kitchen and Frito-Lay."

Since opening, the stand has routinely performed as one of the top specialty stands in the 16,000-seat venue, home to the NBA's Celtics and NHL's Bruins.

"It has evolved," Townsell said. "It gets better and better every month as our relationship with Frito-Lay grows, our dialogue grows. There is more and more experimentation with menu items. It has become a more exciting concept."

The benefits of the stand, considered the only sponsored test kitchen in a major American venue, run multiple ways, Townsell said. "Fans know when they come to a game or concert they can come to the Frito-Lay Test Kitchen and see what's new and different," he said. "When put in the shoes of fans coming six, eight or 40 times a year, it is important from the business and experience perspective for them to come and get something different and not the same old."

Jeremy Karr, Sportservice sous chef, keeps about five items on the menu at any one time, concepts that come from both the Frito-Lay team and TD Garden chefs. Frito-Lay uses the opportunity for corporate chefs to try out recipes using Frito-Lay branded product and then send them to Boston. "Some I use right out and some I kind of tweak a little bit to make concessions-ready," Karr said. "I see what works out, I try different items and go from there."

The collaborative process also includes Sportservice creating recipes. "The testing process is one of the better parts of our job," Townsell joked.

"There are quite a number of folks on our team tasting things for this location specifically, providing feedback. Not everything makes it to the stand."

With a constant rotation of proposals and ideas and no set goal of how many items hit the stand in a given season, the organic approach simply calls for getting an approved concept into the stand as quickly as possible. "We are not changing menu items for the sake of changing," Townsell said. "We want to be industry-leading. We want only the best."

The Cheetos Popcorn has proved the most popular item since the stand opened. Karr joked that he doesn't want to imagine the backlash if he had removed it when Frito-Lay teamed with Regal Cinema in December to roll the product out in participating movie theaters.

This season, though, the new Cheetos Chicken and Waffle, fried chicken sandwiched between two house-made jalapeno Cheetos-flavored waffles and served with a side of Cheetos Popcorn, has developed a steady following.

Other popular items include walking tacos with Doritos or Tostitos and macaroni and cheese topped with the fan's choice of Frito-Lay products, from Flamin' Hot Cheetos to Jalapeno Cheddar Lay's.

Karr routinely introduces a rotation of topped hot dogs to the stand, some that "have gone over well and some of them have not." He has kept that rotation up, too, using variations on Frito-Lay flavors and recipes developed specifically for the stand.

Karr has two new recipes hitting the stand soon, one a cheese fry with jalapeno Cheetos cheese sauce and another new topped hot dog with Korean barbecue beef, Sriracha mayo and Flamin' Hot Fritos.

Does experimentation sell, especially when surrounded by traditional fan food. The stand "is not a dog for us," Townsell said. "It does very well, and that is a good thing. Among specialty stands from month to month it is always one of the highest performing."

The team has earned both business and culinary feedback through the test kitchen concept-Frito-Lay R&D remains impressed with fans' gravitation toward Cheetos-flavored recipes-and plans to find ways to incorporate that knowledge into what's next. TD Garden plans to expand its concessions with more pop-up concepts that borrow from the test-kitchen style.

Mike Stern, director of culinary innovation and sales at Frito-Lay, said the test kitchen brings the brand to life in an experiential way, encouraging consumers to try food items they may not otherwise have thought about. "Our partnership with Delaware North and TD Garden allowed for the creation and execution of unique food," he said, "showcasing our brands outside of the bag or bottle in a fun environment."

Karr believes that by pairing with a recognizable national brand, the Frito-Lay Test Kitchen is a sure bet to attract fans. But credit Cheetos for keeping them coming back.

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: February 27, 2018