Seattle’s seahawks and Sounders are scouting for a whole new group of stars this season: restaurateurs and food trucks.
Piggybacking on Seattle’s great food culture and a desire to give fans a ballpark experience that showcases a lot of their favorite local foods, CenturyLink Field’s concessions team came up with Stadium Street.
Rotating restaurateurs serve their specialties on Stadium Street. (Courtesy First & Goal Hospitality)
Stadium Street features a rotating group of 60 Seattle restaurateurs and up-and-coming chefs four at a time throughout the year. It debuted in August 2017 with great success.
“We wanted to figure out how to bring Seattle’s food culture into the stadium and give a sustainable opportunity for local vendors to help grow their names in the market,” said Zach Hensley, CenturyLink Field’s vice president of venue operations and guest experience, First & Goal Hospitality. “We could have partnered with four or five restaurants and done that for a full year, which is typically what happens in venues, but we wanted to extend that opportunity where we would continue to rotate and give these restaurateurs and chefs a chance to interact with our ticket holders.”
Stadium Street first opened during Seattle Seahawks NFL games with 45-48 restaurants or vendors in the facility for the football season.
“Our fans are getting excited about it and contacting us on social media asking who will be at Stadium Street and giving us advice on who they think should be part of it,” Hensley said. “It’s a fun experience for our fans”.
First & Goal built out four vendor booths on the east side (which is the premium “eat” side) of the main concourse with all the essential cooking needs: flat grill, hot hold, cold hold, hand washing stations and all health department regulation needs. Each booth looks the same; only the digital signage changes as vendors rotate. The area features standup tables and nice lighting, though many buyers take food back to their seats.
It cost about $40,000 to build out the space.
Sales are based on a token concept. Vendors prepare the food and give each consumer a $15 token with their dish, which they then take to a cashier located up front, along with any other items, like beverages, they want to add. The vendor doesn’t have to worry about transactions.
“There is no investment for them upfront to partner with us. That would create barriers and we would lose good opportunities,” Hensley said.
Deals are based on a standard commission split, like any subcontractor. While it is a business opportunity, the biggest benefit to restaurateurs is exposure to legions of fans, Hensley added. “This is not a business opportunity for First & Goal. It’s really about them.”
“We provide the footprint; they provide the actual food and their own personnel to operate the stand,” Hensley said.
Not every concept works given the size (10 feet by 10 feet) and equipment available. Chef Michael Johnson works with potential vendors, educating them on the game-day experience versus a restaurant setting. “Chef Michael helped transform the program,” Hensley said. “He partners with them in creating a signature item on the menu or a unique item to offer at CenturyLink Field.”
“He has to coach them so they will be successful in doing that many turns in a four-hour period for the NFL Seahawks and two hours for the Sounders” of Major League Soccer, Hensley said.
Most vendors have two menu items. Johnson suggests they expect selling 500 units during football, 200-250 during soccer. He also advises them on what to offer. It has to have good ingredients and it has to be worth $15 to the general public, not something they sell at the restaurant for less.
Scouting the area for potential partners is a perk for the CenturyLink Field staff. “We enjoy eating. We like to build relationships. Anyone in the organization can go out, have a great meal, and see opportunities for Stadium Street Market,” Hensley said. “You just start conversations at the table. It starts just from us going out to lunch as a group.”
The next challenge is to make the atmosphere even better, probably with tables, music and bigger TVs. They may even create another Stadium Street in another area of the venue.
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