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Volume 21 No. 1
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Browns sign Aramark for premium dining

The Cleveland Browns have signed a multiyear deal with Aramark to take over premium dining at Cleveland Browns Stadium and the food service at the team’s training facility in Berea, Ohio.

The new operation, branded as Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group, will serve the stadium’s suite and club levels, as well as cater special events and corporate functions at the 73,200-seat building.

Jim Ross, the Browns’ senior vice president of business development, would not disclose the length of the contract other than to say it runs more than three years. Delaware North Sportservice manages the stadium’s general concessions.

A new club level stand will showcase Rosie & Rocco’s, run by local chef Rocco Whalen.
Aramark replaces Levy Restaurants, which had been the Browns’ premium food provider for the past several years after assuming the contract from Restaurant Associates, its sister company that opened the stadium in 1999. Compass Group owns both firms.

After 12 years with those two vendors, the Browns wanted to upgrade the premium food experience for their fans and issued a proposal earlier this year for the business. Over time, the team will consider having one firm operate both concessions and premium, Ross said.

“We felt we owed it to our ownership to see what else was out there,” said Ross, a veteran sports executive who the Browns hired in March 2010 after spending seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins. “We didn’t want to shortchange ourselves.”

Aramark is making an undisclosed investment to revamp the stadium’s high-end food offerings by bringing in three well-known local chefs who run restaurants in town: Michael Symon, Rocco Whalen and Jonathon Sawyer.

Together, they will serve their signature dishes on the club level and in the suites, with Aramark paying them a fee to use their recipes. All three chefs have worked with Aramark at Quicken Loans Arena, where the vendor has run all food service at the Cavaliers’ facility since it opened in 1994.

For Aramark, incorporating the chefs into its bid and proposing a name for the company to reflect its strategy to generate more non-game-day business was key to winning the Browns’ deal, said Carl Mittleman, Aramark’s regional vice president.

“From a consumer-facing perspective, the real mission for us is to create the sense that this is the place to be,” Mittleman said.

“The stadium has not been very active beyond the Browns,” he said. “The name of this company says ‘We are a hospitality group.’ We pitched this idea to the team as a way to differentiate Cleveland Browns Stadium as a premium experience, both game day and non-game day.”

Symon, whose B Spot gourmet burger stands will anchor both sideline clubs, hosts ABC’s daytime show “The Chew,” and has been at the forefront for transforming Cleveland into a culinary haven, according to Mittleman, a Cleveland native.

“I grew up in Cleveland and have seen the city evolve over time, and Michael is the leader of the Cleveland food scene,” he said. “As a whole, the following behind these three chefs is incredible. But it’s not only about the chefs, but what they stand for.”

In addition to Symon’s burger locations, new club level stands will showcase Whalen’s Rosie & Rocco’s, serving homemade meatballs and pizza by the slice, and Sawyer’s Street Frites, showcasing its french fries topped with gravy and mozzarella curds. Pricing for the new food items has not been established, Mittleman said.

Aramark has moved Jessie Jacobson over from Quicken Loans Arena to manage Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group. Troy McKenna, most recently with the Overland Park (Kan.) Convention Center, replaces Jacobson at the Q.

The Browns are Aramark’s ninth NFL food account. The vendor will take the lead on booking non-game-day business, Mittleman said.