Vincent Joseph Pantuso succumbed to lung cancer April 22, leaving behind a legacy in the concessions business that was “a game changer,” as Ken Young, Ovations Food Services, puts it.
Pantuso, who was president of Volume Services Corp. among many other food service industry endeavors, believed this was a relationship business and he established many friendships with business associates over the years. When he moved from Aramark to Interstate United, which later became Volume Services, in 1973, the concessions business at Interstate was miniscule, a few million dollars in recreation accounts, Young recalled.
Between Roger Jahnel and Vince, sales mushroomed, Young recalled. Pantuso focused in on how to help the buildings attract business, he said. “Back then, that wasn’t yet part of the industry.”
Pantuso was also a bridge between the newer and older generations in the concessions business. Young recalled that Pantuso was instrumental, as a mentor, in introducing him to the major players in the concessions game in the 80s.
“He looked at new ways we could serve people,” Young added, and he also strategized every possible way to gain clients. “He taught us preparedness. Before a presentation, we practiced and strategized. He loved to fish and was always thinking how do you hook that fish? Let’s think of everything we can.”
“I think the big memory of him, and everyone probably says the same thing, is that his laugh was unbelievably loud — you could hear it from 20 miles away,” said Chris Bigelow, president of Bigelow Companies. “It was a big, belly laugh and he laughed a lot. That’s the thing you always remember.”
Pantuso grew up in St. Albans, W. Va., where he attended St. Albans High School. He went on to graduate from West Virginia University where he joined Beta Theta Pi.
Bigelow called Pantuso “instrumental” to his career. “Vince is the guy who convinced me to get into sales and gave me the encouragement to get out there and meet more clients,” he said. Bigelow said that many of the contacts he still has today were established through Pantuso.
The biggest business lessons Bigelow learned from Pantuso involved keeping things personal.
“Vince always felt that it was the social side that was so important, that it’s not just a business,” said Bigelow. He recalled that Pantuso hosted a ‘ladies lunch’ each year at the International Association of Venue Managers (then IAAM) for the spouses. “He was convinced that if the wives knew each other and everyone could commiserate about the long hours, then it would build us together as a family.”
Bigelow also remembered a year at Volume Services that Pantuso promised the managers that if they hit the budget, the annual management meeting would be held in Hawaii. “We all thought we’d just end up on a beach in New Jersey with a luau theme but, sure enough, Vince stuck to his word and flew all the managers, with their wives, to Hawaii.”
“It was very much a personal thing with him,” said Bigelow. “You never felt like it was a big company, you felt like it was a family-run business.”
The family feel extended to clients, too. Ray Ward, former assistant GM of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., recalled long phone conversations with Pantuso .
“The thing about Vince is that when he came to Volume Services he did a heck of a job,” said Ward. “It was just a good relationship with a lot of time and conversations.”
Ward said that in the 70s, there was a shift in the concessions business in terms of the offerings that were expected at facilities. “It was moving from hot dogs, beer and popcorn to a much greater variety and choice in terms of product,” said Ward. “Vince was always willing to try new things and enlarged the menu tremendously, which was pretty unheard of at the time.”
After his time as president of Volume Services, Pantuso formed V.J. Pantuso Inc. and consulted out of his home. Young formed Recreation and Leisure Services. In 1987, the two partnered again, forming New Vista.
In 1991, Young and Pantuso partnered with Marriott Corp. in Marvista to win the contract at the new arena in Orlando, Fla., and Reunion Arena, Dallas; Delta Center (now EnergySolutions Arena), Salt Lake City, and Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. Their partnership with Marriott fell apart and resulted in a lawsuit, which Young and Pantuso won, Young recalled. Shortly thereafter, Pantuso left the business.
Pantuso also served as president of the National Association of Concessionaires from 1989-1991.
Pantuso’s infectious personality charmed everyone around him. “There weren’t really people who didn’t like Vince because he was just that kind of guy,” said Bigelow, adding “unless he took advantage of them in a poker game or something, but that’s a whole other story.”
Interviewed for this story: Ken Young, (757) 622-2222 X 104; Chris Bigelow: (816) 994-3261; Ray Ward, (916) 791-4250