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Volume 21 No. 6
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St. Louis: Beyond the ballpark’s walls

Cardinals Nation marks a first for Sportservice

Come Opening Day, St. Louis Cardinals fans can taste the closest thing to the homemade tomato soup that team president Bill DeWitt III enjoyed as a kid growing up in Cincinnati.

It won’t be served at Busch Stadium, though. Delaware North Sportservice, the ballpark’s concessionaire, has the dish on its menu at Cardinals Nation, a full-service restaurant at Ballpark Village, the new entertainment complex across the street from the stadium.

Cardinals Nation, in Ballpark Village, is a new environment for Delaware North Sportservice.
Cardinals Nation, a three-story building, encompasses a 510-seat restaurant and rooftop deck, which serves as an all-inclusive ticketed space for Cardinals games, plus an 8,000-square-foot museum, hall of fame and a team store. Starting April 7, the home opener against Cincinnati, the facility will be open year-round, operating from 11 a.m. to midnight daily. The Cardinals are responsible for booking catered events on days when games aren’t played.

“We think this is unique in sports,” DeWitt said. “Nobody has done all four in one location.”

Elsewhere, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in Toronto runs Real Sports Bar & Grill and Eleven restaurant next to Air Canada Centre. Other projects use independent restaurateurs that do not run food at sports facilities, consultant Chris Bigelow said.

For Sportservice, which has experience operating restaurants inside arenas and stadiums, it is the first time in the vendor’s 98-year history that it has gone outside the four walls of a sports facility to run a food destination with connections to the primary venue. Other Delaware North subsidiaries manage restaurants tied to hotels, resorts, casinos, airports and national parks, said Sportservice Regional Vice President Dan Fetcho, entering his 30th year in St. Louis.

All told, Sportservice has been the Cardinals’ food provider for 60 years, and it was that long-standing relationship that led to a two-year deal for the concessionaire to operate Cardinals Nation. The terms of the management contract include Sportservice receiving a percentage of sales, DeWitt said. The concessionaire did not invest capital dollars in the project, a joint venture between the Cardinals and developer The Cordish Cos., he said.

Sportservice hired former Aramark executive William Edmondson as executive chef for Cardinals Nation, and the company will have 265 employees working the restaurant and the other spaces. The Cardinals were heavily involved in developing Cardinals Nation and looked closely at other sports-themed restaurants they thought were a good comparison, including Wayne Gretzky’s in Toronto. Their vision, though, was to create something more than just a sports bar by focusing on creating a family-style eatery with a full menu, DeWitt said.

The menu features DeWitt’s favorite soup, an R&D journey that involved Busch Stadium executive chef Larry Johnson executing a 24-hour process to pinpoint the exact flavors — “more paprika, less salt” — before DeWitt’s tastebuds gave the thumbs-up on the final recipe.

Other menu selections include gulf shrimp, strip steak and fresh fish dinners.

The “Meeting on the Mound” nachos should be a signature item at Cardinals Nation considering Sportservice sells more nachos at Busch Stadium than any of its nine other MLB accounts, Fetcho said.

Ballpark Village, including Cardinals Nation, should complement other St. Louis restaurants near the ballpark, including Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood, named for the team’s longtime broadcaster, DeWitt said.

“We have more than a $1 million [annual] marketing budget to bring events to Ballpark Village and when our places are full, where else are people going to go?” he said. “All this new activity is positive for downtown.”