SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Everything’s roses for Levy

Forget the winner of the Kentucky Derby — the biggest score at Churchill Downs this year was made by Levy Restaurants, the Chicago-based food and beverage company.

John Long, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc., announced that Levy has been retained to provide food service for all events at the track in Louisville, Ky.

"We've been in discussion concerning a master plan for upgrading the entire facility, and we're about two-thirds of the way through that," Long said. "Along the way, it became obvious a big part of it was food and beverage, and we think Levy is the best at what they do."

The agreement with Levy ends a 60-year relationship between Churchill Downs and concessionaire Aramark or its predecessor, Harry M. Stevens, which was acquired by Aramark in 1994.

Levy will begin service on July 11 at CDI's Trackside off-track betting facility in Louisville. Levy's on-track service makes its debut with the beginning of Churchill Downs' fall meet Oct. 28.

Long hinted that Levy Restaurants eventually could wind up handling all food and beverage service at three other tracks owned by CDI — Calder Race Course near Miami, Hollywood Park in Southern California and Indiana's Hoosier Park.

"Two of those are being handled in-house and the other by a local firm that is almost in-house," Long said, "so we have a lot of flexibility there. The obvious question is that if we have a great partnership at one track with Levy, why not in a variety of locations?"

Levy already provides the food and beverage service at Arlington Park near Chicago, which CDI acquired through a merger last October.

"Arlington is definitely where this [current agreement with Levy] began," Long said. "We saw the different approach they took toward providing such high-quality food service, and it was a launching pad for the deal at Churchill Downs and whatever else comes up."

Levy has been the concessionaire at Arlington since 1989, its only racetrack account until last week's announcement.

"Obviously, we're excited," said Larry Levy, the company's founder and chairman. "Churchill Downs is one of the shrines of sports in America, and the Kentucky Derby is among the most famous single events in the world.

"I've been to the Derby and always loved it, but I have a feeling I'm going to have a whole different perspective on it next year."

Levy indicated that races like the Kentucky Derby — and the Arlington Million, which his company already works — present unique challenges for a food and beverage provider.

"The biggest difference in serving a track instead of a ballpark isn't in the tastes of the customers," Levy said. "It's that at those racing venues, some days the volume can be many multiples of a typical day.

"The Kentucky Derby draws 160,000 people. To do that job right, we not only need lots of people — something like 3,000 — but you have to have military-type precision. You need to house everybody, feed everybody and train everybody for that one big day, and then you have to do everything right."

Levy will have some hometown help, however.

Compass Group, the world's largest food and beverage service provider — and Levy's partner since late last year — has contracts with the University of Louisville and two large auto plants in the area, giving Levy a ready-made personnel pool.

"We knew that the partnership with Compass would help in all kinds of ways," Levy said, "and this is just one of them."

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