SBJ/April 4-10, 2011/Opinion

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  • Seven rules to creating a restaurant-real experience in sports

    “Who practices hospitality entertains God Himself.”
    Unknown

    Food is way more than what we eat. It can show love, it can bring strangers together, it can excite, it can create memories, it can talk to people in ways few other things can — and yes, it can also feed and sustain us. As powerful as food is, it is just one dimension of the hospitality experience. Great restaurateurs know this as fact.

    The future as we see it has food experiences in sports evolving into hospitality experiences, where all the elements of buying and enjoying food speak to the customer in a clear, welcoming voice. At Stir we apply resources from many disciplines to achieve this clarity of voice. One of our more compelling approaches is to translate the guiding principles and practices of top-flight restaurants to the development of our concepts, in turn applying the sensibilities of a restaurateur to the planning and design of our projects. In the process, we’ve landed on what we call the Seven Golden Rules of Restaurant-Real Hospitality. This article outlines these rules, and then describes the results of applying these rules to creating the concepts for the soon-to-open Pen at Safeco Field.

    These rules have been culled from working with great chefs around the world and from having in-depth discussions with them on how to bring together the two very different worlds of fine restaurants and sports foodservice. So to make it “restaurant-real,” do the following as does a restaurateur:

    1. BUY: Great restaurants are as much about what they buy as what they do with it. Chef Donald Link of Cochon and Herbsaint in New Orleans actually employs a full-time forager to comb the local markets and purveyors for specialty, small-lot ingredients and products. To create hospitality experiences in sports, we must build the experience from the same supply chain as local top chefs.

    2. TASTE: While Dave Pasternack was writing his cookbook, “The Young Man and the Sea,” his publisher would call him up and ask if he could put a few more ingredients in his recipes. Typical Dave — he is the master of balance and clarity, and anyone who’s had the crudo at his restaurant Esca in New York City, knows this firsthand. For Dave, one of the issues he has with some chefs is what he refers to as “always three too many ingredients.” Like Dave, in sports we should strive for clean, simple flavors — and you don’t have to be a foodie to notice. People get clean food, even in a stadium.

    3. CONNECT: Prime Meats in Brooklyn is a nationally recognized restaurant that is, to me, the best, most recent example of connecting all the dots: food, service style, uniform, aesthetics, graphics and atmosphere. Everything speaks to the customer in one voice with the result being an incredibly comfortable and enjoyable place to eat and drink. To create restaurant-real experiences in sports we must go well beyond designing concession operations. As Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo at Prime Meats have done, we must work to use every visual, sensory and experiential cue available to us to talk to the fan.

    COURTESY OF CENTERPLATE STIR
    The mood board helps set the concept and feel for Tortugas Voladoras, one of the new hospitality areas at The Pen at Safeco Field.
    4. DESIGN:
    When designing a concession or a suite program, you generally start with a menu. When a restaurant is designed, you start with a concept. If you want restaurant-real, you need to design as if you are designing a restaurant — the process is the same. We should ask ourselves: “What’s this concept about? What’s it feel like to be at and eat in this place?” At Stir we first create a mood board, using the award-winning Sam Cooper Design to design the road map. After these two steps, then we get to menu and the rest, same as if designing a restaurant.

    5. ENGAGE: Seattle-based chef Ethan Stowell told me that a key to any great restaurant is to engage with the community. This engagement with the community requires dedicated effort. Ethan has Kirsten Graham who handles this for him in Seattle, and to get to hospitality we too must connect to the restaurant community specifically, and to the community as a whole generally.

    6. PLAN: Growth is what happens when you’re not operating. Top chefs and restaurateurs are on a never-ending road of discovery, always striving to keep the concept vital and relevant. Planning is an everyday affair in leading restaurants, and in sports with the complexity of very high sales volumes in very compressed periods of time, planning cannot be relegated to the offseason. It must be an ongoing commitment, separate and distinct from day-to-day operations.

    7. THINK: Getting an operation the size and scope of a sports stadium to think like a restaurateur is no small task. Our strategy is to bring top local chefs into our projects and into our kitchens as part of our team. And through this association we inform our kitchens and operations with the sensibilities of a restaurateur.

    The Pen at Safeco Field

    These rules were recently applied to the design of The Pen at Safeco Field. We worked with the Mariners and top chefs to create four new hospitality concepts, opening Friday:

    Hamburg + Frites: We collaborated with chef Ethan Stowell to create the “anti-fast food burger”: A tasty 6.5 ounce patty of 100 percent grass-fed beef from local supplier Thundering Hooves. Topped with Tillamook Cheddar and butter lettuce, this burger has a clean, fresh flavor.

    Apizza: Here’s a serious attempt to raise the pizza bar in sports. Our chef partner Bill Pustari, owner of one of the nation’s top pizzerias, Modern Apizza in New Haven, Conn., is helping us to create authentic, thin-crust pizza at Safeco. We use the same mozzarella cheese and the same San Marzano tomatoes at Apizza as Pustari does at Modern. We use Zoe’s local pepperoni and offer a white pie with local veggies that changes seasonally.

    La Creperie: This is authentic Parisian street food, crisped and folded into a triangle to be eaten with one hand, with both sweet and savory variations. To make it Seattle-relevant, we worked with Stowell to create savory fillings based on local supplier Zoe’s all-natural meats.

    Tortugas Voladoras (Flying Turtles): In Mexico, tortuga is the slang term for a torta, because the bread used to make these sandwiches looks like a turtle’s shell. Tortas are an up-and-coming trend in the U.S. and we brought in renowned Mexican chef Roberto Santibañez to work with us to create an authentic Mexican torta shop, again using all local meats and poultry sourced through Stowell.

    We actively applied the Seven Golden Rules to inform our work at Safeco Field. It’s like the Richard Cushing quote “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” applied to hospitality design. By doing things the way a top chef or restaurateur does, we can transform a concession stand into a hospitality experience.

    John Sergi (John.Sergi@Centerplate.com) is chief design officer of Centerplate Stir, where he develops hospitality and culinary strategies for sports facilities throughout the U.S. and overseas.

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  • ‘Forty’ list lacks diversity

    As an “over 40” sports and entertainment executive, I have been a longtime loyal reader of your publication — one of the leading news resources in the sports industry. So it is with great concern that I offer my thoughts about your lack of diversity amongst this year’s Forty Under 40 honorees (March 21-27 issue).

    As one example, although a small number of African-Americans have appeared on your list over the years, I noticed the complete absence of African-Americans on this year’s list. And other groups appear to be underrepresented, as well.

    This prestigious awards program should be inclusive, not exclusive, and I question why it does not reflect the full spectrum of diverse talent in our industry. I make this statement while also embracing an appreciation for the credentials of your 2011 honorees, some of whom I know and respect on both personal and professional levels.

    Eckhart Tolle once stated that “Awareness is the greatest agent of change.” Always an optimist, it is my hope that your awareness of these omissions will lead to substantive change in the way SportsBusiness Journal — and, in an ideal world, the sports community as a whole — conducts business going forward.

    M. Quentin B.L. Williams
    New York City

    Williams is a former executive with the NFL, NBA and Jacksonville Jaguars. He is the CEO of a New York City law firm and a Los Angeles media company.

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  • NFLPA missed opportunity to gain leverage on owners

    When the mediation between the NFL and NFLPA failed to produce a new collective-bargaining agreement, and the lockout finally became a reality, most people blamed the owners. However, I think that the NFLPA really botched this one and missed a real opportunity to force the hand of the NFL during the season.

    I am not in either camp. I don’t work for the NFL or any team in any capacity, and I no longer represent any players in any way. I have done both in the past and I see both sides, but the reality is I really do not care who gets what; I just want there to be NFL football. Like most fans, I want a draft, mini-camp, training camp and the season to kick off as scheduled, without the lockout putting a damper on things.

    Now, I am not a descendant of Jimmy Hoffa, and I have never been involved in labor negotiations. However, I have negotiated many deals in my 23-year sports business career, and one thing I know to be true is that things always proceed better for your side if you possess more leverage than the other side. Leverage is what allows you to get closer to the deal that you actually want. Fact: The NFL and the owners have more leverage than the NFLPA and the players. The owners can financially withstand a lockout much longer than the majority of the players. Not only are player salaries more of a necessity, the longevity of their careers is always looming in the back of their minds. Couple this with the fact that it is much easier to keep 32 owners on the same page than it is to ensure the solidarity of 1,900 players, and you can see how the scales are tipping toward the owners in the leverage department.

    So knowing this, the NFLPA used the entire 2010 season to spin its propaganda to the masses, claiming the NFL is a tyrant and they are the victims. I even read a quote that the NFLPA only wanted to do what was right for the fans. I chuckled when I read this because the fans are not stupid; the NFLPA’s goal is to get their deal. By the way, that’s what their goal should be, just as the NFL should attempt to secure their deal of preference. The problem with the NFLPA’s strategy to get fans to side with them is that tactic does not change the fact that the NFL owners still have more leverage in the negotiations. The NFLPA should have gone for the jugular during the season to win back that leverage.

    On Thanksgiving, the NFLPA should have assembled a group of player reps for a press conference for the entire fandom of the NFL to witness. DeMaurice Smith should have laid down the gauntlet and stated that the players had been negotiating in good faith and there was no progress, so unless the NFL and the owners get serious about negotiating, the players would walk out after the last game of the regular season. If there was no consensus between the two parties, and a new CBA was not reached by that time, there would be a work stoppage enforced by the players.

    Can you hear the collective jaw of owners dropping in NFL cities across the nation? Do you think any owner would sit still with the possibility of there being no playoffs, and even worse, no Super Bowl? Do you think the leverage would have shifted into the favor of the players?

    I am not a lawyer, and I am sure all the legal pundits out there will cry foul and spout out a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo on why this act would have been in violation of the CBA and how there would have been legal action. Who cares? This country and labor unions were built on strikes and work stoppages; this wouldn’t have been the first time a union broke a contract and walked out on management. Besides, do you really think the NFL and its owners would allow for a Super Bowl to not occur? Never mind that, how do you think their billion-dollar network partners would feel about it? It’s not about the legal ramifications, it’s about the leverage. The legality of a work stoppage caused by the players would have been tied up in the legal system well past a new CBA agreement, and it would have been settled prior to any decision, most likely as part of the new CBA.

    Such a statement by the NFLPA would have caused the NFL to seriously get back to the tables, make further concessions, and get to a meeting of the minds and a new agreement in order to not jeopardize the playoffs and the crown jewel — the Super Bowl.

    Now there is no urgency for the NFL and owners to strike a deal. The union played the decertification card as they had in the past; it’s standard and predictable and a sham. Do you think that scared the NFL owners? I assume they expected just that. So, the fierce offseason war everyone has been expecting is now ramping up and exactly playing into the NFL’s hands. The closer it gets to the season, and to a point where players will not get their paychecks, the more leverage the owners get.

    Perhaps if the NFLPA had laid down the gauntlet during the season and done something to actually gain the upper hand, the players would already have a deal, and one much better than I suspect they will end up with when all is said and done.

    And more importantly, fans would not be squirming now imagining life without the NFL in the fall. �8;

    Lou Imbriano (lou@trinity1.com), former CMO of the New England Patriots and COO of the New England Revolution, is CEO of TrinityOne Sports (Trinity1.com), and a professor of sports marketing at Boston College. Follow him on Twitter @LouImbriano.

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