The Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ website advertises their curbside concessions delivery. (Courtesy BlueWahoos.com)

Blue Wahoos keep link to community and workers on the job

The orders for curbside pickup of concession items from Minor League Baseball’s Pensacola Blue Wahoos started rolling in two hours before delivery even started Monday. And the orders kept coming, whether through the phone ordering system set up by the team or simply with walk-up orders at the downtown waterfront Blue Wahoos Stadium. 

Blue Wahoo Foods GM Eric Kroll and executive chef Travis Wilson. (Courtesy Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

As concerns over COVID-19 shut down stadiums big and small around the world, it’s the story of a Florida baseball team finding a way to maintain a link with its community. Also, “for us, this is about how do we keep our people employed and keep the economy going within our staff,” said team President Jonathan Griffith. “We have a chef, we have top-notch food that has won awards, we pride ourselves” the ballpark’s food. 

The Blue Wahoos, who have Blue Wahoos Foods general manager Eric Kroll and executive chef Travis Wilson full time on site, know the hit of having no games at the stadium quickly takes a toll on hourly workers. The team’s parent company, Studer Entertainment and Retail, began by giving all part-time hourly employees $100 each, handing out a total of $25,000 to game-day staff. Griffith said they wanted to do more and came up with the concession pickup order concept. 

The Blue Wahoos, who work with Nolan Ryan’s RS3 concessionaire out of Texas, have spent about a week working on the system, which launched Monday, figuring out which menu items would work for pickup and in to-go boxes and how to accept payment, acquiring to-go boxes and even understanding the logistics of getting food from the second-floor kitchen down to the ground floor. “We could foresee what was going on, and with all the restaurants in Florida curbside and delivery only, we have been getting it set up,” Griffith said. 

Now open weekdays from 11 a.m. 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m., the pared-down menu from the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins still offers everything from hot dogs, burgers and cheesesteaks to carne asada burritos, bacon-crusted shrimp tacos and build-your-own pastas with herb-grilled chicken, seared shrimp or grilled steak. A $3 kids menu is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The Blue Wahoos are able to use their current point-of-sale system. When fans call in, workers take the orders by hand and get started. “We are doing everything the manual way, but it is still working really well for us,” Griffith said. “We are serving a need and serving great food.” 

Griffith said that Wilson, the team chef, was heavily involved in sorting out the menu and that Kayem hot dogs were a must-have. “If you are missing that ballpark experience, that is our No. 1 thing,” he said. Serving Kayem hot dogs, something people can’t buy in stores — Griffith said that the team gets regular requests to buy cases of the hot dogs — meant the Blue Wahoos had a popular starting point for the curbside effort. Then, being on the water, the team wanted to ensure they had seafood options, especially as they encourage people to pick up food and enjoy the park surrounding the stadium. From there, it was a matter of selecting items that “made sense” from a to-go standpoint, so plenty of fried-food options made the cut, while the ceviche tacos weren’t practical (ceviche is a raw fish dish in which the fish is cured in citrus juices)

“Our goal for what success looks like is breaking even and making sure people have jobs,” Griffith said. With a $3 kids meal at lunch, Griffith said they aren’t looking to make great profits, but any little thing — even $3 — helps pay hourly wages. Knowing that serving lunch and dinner isn’t the same as filling a 5,000-seat stadium, Griffith said they hope to still employ about 20 percent of their regular game-day staff with the effort. 

“The whole reason for this stadium was to improve the quality of life for our community,” he said. “We built the stadium downtown to make sure it is the focus point of our community. To me, that is the mission of all minor league baseball, helping the local community, and that is what we are doing.” 

The Blue Wahoos may be the first team to set up curbside concessions delivery at their stadium, but it doesn’t mean they have to be the last. Griffith said that having a full-time chef and a regular catering business makes the planning easier, but the focus is simply about using the assets they have on hand to make the best of every situation. For fans of the Blue Wahoos, that means access to a Kayem hot dog covered in crab mac and cheese or a bacon-crusted shrimp taco. For some employees of the team, it means a job.