SBJ/April 16-22, 2012/In-Depth

Concessionaire serves up Fenway tradition

The Boston Red Sox have contracted with only two primary food vendors over the past 100 seasons at Fenway Park. If you throw consolidation into the mix, one continuous company has run general concessions at Fenway since the ballpark opened in 1912.

Aramark and the old Harry M. Stevens, the company it purchased 17 years ago, have provided consistency and stability in food operations since the park opened, an impressive run considering the competitive nature of the sports food business.

Aramark bought Harry M. Stevens in December 1994 and took over Fenway’s food and retail starting with the 1995 season, as well as facility services — the cleaning and maintenance of the ballpark. Seven years later, in 2002, Aramark took over Fenway Park’s premium food service from a local firm. The switch coincided with plans by the Red Sox’s new ownership group to expand the ballpark’s high-end areas with more suites, club seats and lounges.

As part of the deal to buy Harry M. Stevens, Aramark assumed the old vendor’s financial stake in the Red Sox. At the time, Aramark owned roughly 17 percent of the team and was its largest minority shareholder. In 2001, Aramark attempted to buy the Red Sox, but lost out to John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, and sold its shares to that group.

The Big Concourse is one of the new concepts Aramark has recently introduced at Fenway, as it balances the need for new food and beverage options with the ballpark’s history.
Photo by: Michael Ivins / Boston Red Sox
Over the past 10 years, ownership has been aggressive in upgrading the facility, spending $285 million in stadium renovations. It would be difficult to pinpoint Aramark’s share of financing those improvements, said Marc Bruno, president of Aramark Sports and Entertainment, but it’s safe to say the vendor has spent tens of millions of dollars to help keep Fenway up to par with modern MLB facilities.

The list of improvements stretches from the Big Concourse, a 40,000-square-foot concessions space behind center field and right field built prior to the 2003 season, to this year’s new addition, The Royal Rooters Club: Home of the Nation’s Archives, a revamped destination on the ballpark’s second level behind the right-field seats. Aramark will manage the club, Fenway’s fourth premium dining space.

The challenge for building new food stands and destinations at Fenway Park over the past 10 years has been to maintain a consistently retro feel to those structures at the same time Aramark introduces new technology to improve speed of service for the fans.

For example, new digital menu boards at concession stands by Gate D have been replicated to look like the ballpark’s old static signs, Bruno said. As per the team’s mandate, everything new has to look old, said Rich Roper, Aramark’s regional vice president in Boston.

“The fascinating thing is in most places when you do something new, you want to make it look shiny,” Bruno said. “That’s not necessarily different here, but we also want to make sure that it blends into the rest of the park … which is something special.

“Some people consider the age of Fenway an obstacle, but from our perspective, we have been able to work with a visionary ownership group to present the ideas and to continue to expand the offerings so it’s a place people want to come to day in and day out,” he said.

Aramark’s food operation at Fenway covers Yawkey Way, a street outside the park that is closed to vehicles on game days and set up with food and drink stands. It opens two hours before the first pitch. Aramark controls all Yawkey Way concessions and splits revenue with the Red Sox.

The success of Yawkey Way has worked its way south to Florida, where Aramark runs the food at JetBlue Park, the Red Sox’s new spring training facility in Fort Myers. The Taste of Fenway South, with concessions and tents outside the park, feeds off the original Boston version.

One food concept Aramark brought to JetBlue Park is new in Boston this year. The Taste of Fenway food truck, one of three mobile food units Aramark is managing this year in MLB, will be parked at Yawkey Way this season, selling Fenway Franks and lobster rolls. The red truck also will go to some of the city’s other popular tourist attractions on non-game days, Roper said.

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