Cabo Loaded Nachos.
The most important piece of the puzzle when launching a program like Long Island Taste, which will see menu items from eight local eateries sold at the renovated Nassau Coliseum, is to stay the course.
Marco Fabozzi, VP of Hospitality Strategy for Levy Restaurants, instituted a similar program at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, which opened five years ago. He knows that “it’s a daunting task. We were reminiscing from six months ago, when we were talking about an all-out meet and greet for interested restaurateurs, and seeing where we are today. You do get a little scared.”
Buying local and partnering with local restaurants on branding is not a new concept, but Levy has taken it a long way in Brooklyn and Uniondale, N.Y., the Long Island home of the new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum By New York Community Bank, which opens April 5.
“You wonder will you garner enough interest?” Fabozzi said. “But you have to stay true to the course. To stay local is not an easy thing because there are a lot of conglomerates out there knocking on your door.”
Though budget-wise it may make more sense to go with big firms and bulk buys, Levy’s goal in Long Island is the best experience possible for the fans, Fabozzi said. To that end, they started the search for local partners six months ago and were pleased to end up with 110 interested parties at the initial meet-and-greet to introduce the concept.
That went much better than it did in Brooklyn when Taste was launched there, Fabozzi recalled.
The initial eight partners for Long Island Taste are:
• Prime Food Distributor (PFD) DBA Grilled by PFD’s with its Signature Coliseum Burger.
• Greekrave, with its Krave Burger, Traditional Marinated Lamb and Beef Gyro, and its signature Greek Nachos with pita chips.
• Smokin Al’s, with smoked meats, including Smokin’ Al's Pulled Pork and Chopped Brisket Sandwiches with Al's Cole Slaw.
• Roast Sandwich House, with its Buffalo Roasted Chicken sandwich with Gorgonzola Spread.
• Cabo, A Taste of Mexico’s Pollo Al Pastor Tacos, as well as loaded nachos and chicken quesadillas and Cabo Cobb Salad, a vegetarian dish.
• Nathan’s Famous, the official hot dog and French fry of The New Coliseum.
• Umberto's, with its Signature Margherita Personal Pie.
• Vincent’s Clam Bar, with its Vincent's Signature Meatball Pizza Burger.
The selection process was exhaustive. Fabozzi said that besides the orientation program in Uniondale, they researched the market through Yelp reviews and other Internet sites as well as going out for incognito tasting trips to determine “what and who they are.” Asked to compare it to the tastings he did for the predecessor program, Taste of Brooklyn, he joked that it was about a “10-pound difference, but I’ve worked it back off.”
“We narrowed it down by determining what was an arena food at the end of the day,” Fabozzi said. “The item had to be appealing to the general public, not too exotic, and had to hold up well in our environment.”
While Levy is done selecting the partners for the inaugural Long Island Taste program, the firm is still looking at products from the Long Island area – salt, mustard, cookies, chips and popcorn, as well as beverages — to be used in arena cuisine.
The partnerships vary, depending upon the restaurant, Fabozzi said, declining to reveal any financials. “It’s a two-way street.” While Levy does all the cooking and buying inhouse, “we produce their food items the way they envision them but cooked by us. Both parties have to feel proud of the end product.”
Angelo Ramunni of the 15-year-old Cabo, A Taste of Mexico couldn’t be more pleased with the arrangement. Nassau Coliseum will be his first experience serving Cabo menu items inside an arena.
He almost missed out, having heard about Levy’s open house for potential restaurateurs from a friend just the night before. A native of Long Island, he had been watching the struggle to reimagine Nassau Coliseum for years and wanted to be part of it.
“It will be great exposure to help brand our business,” he said. It dovetails nicely with their other expansion plans, which include putting their empanadas (to hopefully be introduced at the coliseum at a later date), tortilla chips and salsa in supermarkets in the region. “This will help us launch the product line. We always wanted to be involved in quick service – this is a great way to get started,” Ramunni said.
Cabo receives signage in the venue and Ramunni intends to take investors there to help expand the concept to other venues. There is no exclusive, he said.
He will also promote events at the coliseum in his restaurant. “We’re big on social media; we will host a lot of events happening at the coliseum on our social media site,” he said, adding they will then offer fans who come to the restaurant with a receipt from the arena a discount at the Cabo.
“The local restaurateur gets the recognition of being selected,” Fabozzi said. “Being a Long island-based company, they get a great deal of pride in being able to partner with a renovated, iconic venue.”
Though he had no financials to share, “anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of institutions that have partnered with us in Brooklyn do fairly well downstream.”
Both Taste of Brooklyn and Long Island Taste aid Levy’s desire to make arena food a real meal, Fabozzi said. To be a real meal, it needs to be seasoned and cooked in house and, to the degree possible, made to order. “We don’t believe in canned or pre-made food; it’s all made at the arena.”
The New Nassau Coliseum will have 11 unique concessions stands plus quite a few portables. There are 104 points of sale. “There are over 300 individuals we have staffed for Nassau Coliseum,” Fabozzi said.
The partner menu items will be involved in all aspects of the operation, including catering, suites, restaurants and VIP lounges.
Besides serving local brands, the New Nassau Coliseum will hopefully be known for speed of service. Levy is using a Bypass point of sale system and will institute a Bypass Lane for mobile ordering as they do on Barclays Center’s upper concourse.
The New Coliseum Presented By New York Community Bank will offer 13,000 seats for hockey, 13,500 for basketball, and 14,500 for concert configurations, with the ability to flex up.
The bowl will have a theater seating option for 4,000 guests.