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Volume 20 No. 45
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Levy pulls out its drivers to deliver fresh food for golf event

Don Muret
The arrival of Charlotte’s first golf major allowed Levy to showcase its food operation in the city its golf division calls home.

The Chicago-based concessionaire runs general concessions and premium dining at about 35 golf tournaments, including the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, the same course that played host to the PGA Championship this month. Levy holds the account for the PGA Championship as it moves around the country.

The vendor also has deals with the Women’s PGA, Senior PGA, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, among other professional golf tournaments.

For the PGA Championship, Levy had a workforce of 1,000 employees and 140 managers from around the country, compared with 600 workers and 60 to 75 managers for the Wells Fargo. The PGA was projected to draw 200,000 spectators, while the Wells Fargo typically caps attendance at 35,000 a day over the four-day tournament.

“We still wanted to treat it as if it was our first time coming in here, so that we could give everyone the best experience possible,” said Melissa Matthews, director of sales for Levy’s golf division. “The elements are different. We’ve got bigger kitchens and pantries because we’re serving more guests. We wanted to make sure we handled this event with velvet gloves.”

Burgers were grilled on site, but Levy made much of the food for the PGA Championship 30 miles away at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Logistically, feeding fans at golf courses is different from feeding them at arenas and stadiums. It revolves around the installation of pop-up venues, such as the 48,000-square-foot Wanamaker Club at Quail Hollow, plus smaller sponsor chalets, which the PGA of America installed in Charlotte.

Most of Levy’s food preparation for Quail Hollow events takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of its motorsports accounts. Because of local health department restrictions, the vendor prepares its grab-and-go items and higher-end dishes at the track’s huge production kitchen. Three small refrigerated trucks then haul those items overnight to Quail Hollow, a 30-mile drive south from the speedway. For the PGA Championship, each truck made three round trips to distribute food for the following day, said Jim Abbey, Levy’s regional vice president of culinary, who lives in Charlotte.

“It’s kind of like camping, in a way,” Abbey said. “You’re out in the woods and you have to create running water and electricity … the foundation. [In golf], you’re dealing with fire codes and health codes, which is the reason why we produce the majority of food at CMS. Our goal is to make the food look really fresh when delivering the baked goods, salad bars, breakfast sandwiches, lunch and snacks to all the different tents and chalets around the course.”

Hot foods such as burgers, brats and hot dogs are grilled on site in small batches during the course of the day. But in the heat of summer, the emphasis is on lighter fare such as fresh fruits and veggies, and that’s where the speedway’s facilities play a critical role, Abbey said.

Next year, the PGA Championship is set for Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis, and Levy officials are already in discussions with Scottrade Center and the America’s Center convention complex, both Levy accounts, for how they can support the golf operation.

Last year, Levy used the U.S. Tennis Association’s production kitchen in Queens to prepare food for the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey. It was no picnic for Levy, considering it’s a 45-minute drive at best and requires taking toll roads, Matthews said.

In markets where Levy does not have a neighboring account, it has built a massive production kitchen at the golf course. The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, a Minneapolis suburb, is one example, Matthews said.

Levy’s golf portfolio first gained traction in 2006, when the company took over multiple golf events from Restaurant Associates. Both firms are owned by Compass Group USA, whose North American headquarters are in Charlotte.

In 2015, Levy bought Prom Management Group, whose clients included the U.S. Open, the Players Championship and the Barclays. Levy’s first golf account was the old Western Open in suburban Chicago.

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