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Volume 21 No. 1
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Aramark to add general concessions duties at Browns’ stadium

Don Muret
Aramark is poised to take over general concessions at FirstEnergy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns, two years after the vendor assumed the premium dining contract there.

Last week, Aramark was in the final stages of negotiating an eight-year contract with the Browns, said Brent Stehlik, the team’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer. The number of years matches the term of Aramark’s premium deal, Stehlik said.

Aramark replaces Delaware North Sportservice, which had run the stadium’s concessions since the facility opened in 1999.

Driving the team’s decision to select Aramark was the opportunity to expand the company’s unofficial “Taste of Cleveland” concepts from the club level to concessions, Stehlik said.

When Aramark began operating the stadium’s premium food service in 2012, it introduced a new brand, Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group, to serve the suites and clubs and cater special events and corporate functions at the venue.

Michael Symon’s B Spot burgers will expand beyond the club level at FirstEnergy Stadium.

As part of the rebrand, Aramark brought in three well-known local chefs to serve their signature items on the club level. Michael Symon’s B Spot burgers, Rocco Whalen’s homemade meatballs and pizza and Jonathon Sawyer’s french fries topped with gravy and mozzarella curds resonated with Browns fans. For the 2012 season, the Browns’ premium food revenue grew by more than 20 percent over 2011, the final year that Levy Restaurants managed the operation. Last season, the upward tick continued, team officials said.

“We’ve seen a significant improvement in per caps and fan experience on our club level,” Stehlik said.

This year, as Aramark folds concessions under the same hospitality group brand, the three chefs will bring their recipes and flair to the public concourses, joined by Chris Hodgson, another homegrown chef, who made his mark running a Cleveland food truck. Last year, Hodgson opened Hodge Podge on the stadium’s club level, serving gourmet hot dogs and tater tots. The same concept will be rolled out to general concessions in 2014.

Aramark has committed to making an investment in the mid-seven figures to pay for concessions upgrades tied to the second phase of a $120 million stadium renovation, Stehlik said. Those improvements will be completed before the 2015 season.

> HOME PLATE: Open Table, a mobile application that allows diners to make reservations at restaurants, is now in use at several MLB ballparks.

Legends Hospitality introduced Open Table this season as part of taking over all food service at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Los Angeles Angels season-ticket holders can download the application on their smartphones to make reservations for the Diamond Club behind home plate and the Knothole Club on the club level by the right-field foul pole. The Knothole Club is open to all ticket holders after the first pitch, said David Lippman, Legends’ on-site general manager.

Improving the fan experience is driving use of the technology in sports, vendors said. Food providers pay a few hundred dollars to Open Table for purchasing the software and are charged a small fee per reservation. Concessionaires refused to disclose the reservation fees. For traditional restaurants, the fee is about $1 a reservation, according to the Open Table website.

Legends first used Open Table last season at Yankee Stadium’s Audi Club, then brought the technology to the West Coast. The system should eliminate miscommunication between fans and ballpark food operators under the old phone reservation format, Lippman said.

Elsewhere this season, Aramark debuts Open Table at Citi Field’s Acela Club and Pat LaFrieda’s Chop House, company officials said.

Delaware North Sportservice has used Open Table for about two years at Dempsey’s, a restaurant at Camden Yards. This year it expands the system to Progressive Field, Target Field and Cardinals Nation, part of Ballpark Village across the street from Busch Stadium.

In Phoenix, Levy Restaurants plans to push Open Table to a greater degree after it did not see much use last season at the Game Seven Grill next to Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall said. “I think it makes perfect sense for popular spots with limited openings,” Hall said.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.