Made To Order – Baseball stadiums continue to
experiment with customizable food items
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: April 01,2008

For Kevin Haggarty of Fenway Park in Boston, his simplest menu
this season was a breakfast he pulled together for a Red Sox game
broadcast in a rather hi-tech way.   

           
The team had traveled to Japan for an exhibition game against the
Oakland Athletics, but Haggerty was only responsible for putting
together a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs for the 600 corporate
sponsors who showed up to watch a high-definition simulcast of the
event.    

           
It might be one of the more low-key moments for what is expected to
be a revved-up baseball season for many ball clubs. With an eye
toward improving freshness and adding value, stadiums from San
Diego to Boston are experimenting with customizable hawking
stations, hi-tech fresh food vending machines and interactive
concession stands.

           
This drive is part of a fresh food movement for vendors to be more
transparent about the food items they’re serving, explained
Executive Chef Rolf Baumann of Delaware North Companies.

           
“It’s important for people to know where their food
comes from,” he said. “They need to know that
it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting in the hot box for
the past few hours.”
        

           
The most talked-about innovation may be the new Kosher Hot Dog
Vending Machine developed by Kosher Vending Industries LLC and KRh
Thermal Systems Inc. Haggerty said his ballpark has a machine at
Fenway that serves hot dogs according to dietary law. The machine
keeps hot dogs refrigerated in one section, buns in the other, and
uses infrared heaters and robotic arms to cook the dog, place it in
a bun and drop it onto a plastic dish that is delivered to the
buyer through a plastic window. The hot dogs take 36 seconds to
prepare and sell for $4.50
each.           

           
“We actually had a Kosher hot dog stand that we used to run,
but it wasn’t allowed to operate on Sabbath days, which ruled
out Saturday games,” Haggerty said. “The machine
however can be operated at any
time.”     

           
Haggerty said his ballpark staff, managed by Aramark, is also
taking sausages to the fans after 75 successful years of hawking
hot dogs. The sausages, which retail at $6.50, will be fresh in
that they won’t be placed into a bun until after the fan
makes his order (the sausage salesmen will keep sausages and buns
in separate containers), and they’ll be customizable in the
sense that the vending staff will carry peppers and condiments to
individualize each dog. Last year, the team hawked 16,000 hot dogs
on opening day in a stadium that holds 37,700 people.

           
“In cold weather, we’re going to begin experimenting
with hawking Legal Seafood’s clam chowder. We sold small cups
of soup in cardboard containers packaged in heated bags during the
World Series and they did really well,” he said. “On
hot days we’re going to sell 28-ounce, freshly brewed iced
teas. It’s our way to respond to what guests are asking
for.”

           
Dave Freireich of Aramark’s corporate office said most of his
ballparks are planning new food items to meet local tastes —
Minute Maid Park in Houston is introducing sliders (mini
hamburgers), while Oakland (Calif.) Athletics fans at McAfee
Coliseum will soon be getting broccoli cheddar enchilada soup and
foot-long fish sandwiches. Shea Stadium in New York is planning to
ramp up its food operations with corned beef, pulled pork and
pastrami sandwiches.      

           
Fans are also demanding fresher and locally made products, said
Baumann. Customers also want more control over their dishes, part
of the Chipotle model named after the popular burrito restaurant
chain that allows customers to select every ingredient that goes
into their dish with a quick point or
nod.     

           
“Of course it’s a little different in ballparks because
we have a limited amount of ingredients,” Baumann said.
“It’s more of a case like you want the onions on your
salad, or you don’t. There’s not room for a terrible
amount of variety.”    

           
At Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Baumann is trying to personalize the
Cleveland Bomber — a roast beef sandwich rolled into a
tortilla — think beef burrito meets Philly cheesesteak
sandwich. Six interactive carts are placed through the stadium with
vegetables grilled and meats carved right in front of the customer.
        

           
The same goes for Petco Park in San Diego which has a live
mozzarella station where cheese is actually curdled, treated with
salt water and seasoned in front of the customer. The park also
sells torta sandwiches that are deep-fried in a large kettle
— unsaturated trans-fat free oil of course — right out
on the concourse.
        

           
“After we’re done with deep-fry, we sear them in this
giant Paella pan,” Baumann said. “Lots of big flames
— that one’s a real crowd pleaser,” he said,
adding that the sandwiches come in pairs and retail at $6 per
plate.  

           
It doesn’t stop there. Ranger Stadium in Arlington, Texas is
experimenting with a brisket carving station where users can choose
their own rubs and sauces, while Miller Park in Milwaukee is
specializing its brat bar with a series of specialty buns and
“secret” stadium sauces to achieve a desired
taste.      

           
The same goes for suite-food, which Baumann said is increasingly
being made to order in the suites using mobile cooking units and
in-suite air ducts.
             

           
“I believe that in the next five-to-10 years, all food will
be cooked in the suites,” Baumann said, pointing to the
popularity of pasta stations, carving tables and omelet servers,
all of which make more personalized dishes.   

           
“There is an added cost to that type of operation because you
must employ more skilled labor and we’re not quite at that
point,” he said. “The goal is to remove as much food as
possible that is held on a hot-plate.  

           
Haggerty said his own suites operation is concentrated on buying
more locally grown products from New England Farmers —
everything from Vermont white cheddar cheeses, to grass-fed lamb
and wild mushrooms.   

           
“The food in the suites needs to be on par with dishes at a
five-star restaurant and the goal is always to be both organic and
locally grown,” Haggerty said. “Of course that’s
not always possible. I’d rather have an ingredient that was
locally grown, but not organic, than an ingredient that was
organic, but shipped over from
China.”        

           
Other produce-heavy items being sold at Fenway include more fruit
bowls, carrot and celery sticks and shaker salads that come with
their ingredients in a cup and are shaken together to mix the
dressing.         

           
“People say they want to eat healthier and there are a lot of
articles in the papers talking about how people need to eat
healthier,” Haggerty said. “I believe it will happen,
but it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction yet. A lot of
people come to the game wanting hot dogs.”

 

Interviewed for this story: Kevin Haggerty, (617) 536-6683; Rolf
Baumann, (716) 704-7378; Dave Freireich, (215) 238-4078