Churchill Downs to introduce new premium areas, infield entry for Derby
Rick Sutton and David Danielson are getting ready to host 280,000 of their friends for one of the biggest weekends in sports for the Kentucky Derby.
Danielson is the executive chef and Rick Sutton is vice president of hospitality for Levy Restaurants at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown is a one-of-a-kind event for the Chicago-based concessionaire, which also handled food and beverages at the Super Bowl in Atlanta and College Football Championship title game in Santa Clara, Calif., earlier this year.
“We have 120,000, 130,000 people in here on Oaks, 160,000 people on Derby,” said Danielson, referring to the Kentucky Oaks races on Friday and the Derby on Saturday. “The volume and size of our premium area dining we’re now up to over 20,000, 22,000 people seated in those areas. The size and scope of it is really enormous compared to a normal venue.”
After unveiling 32 new suites and a renovated entry plaza last year, Churchill Downs will debut a 20,000-square-foot rooftop bar and beer garden this year on top of the suite level for premium fans and groups. “It can hold up to 1,200 people,” Sutton said.
Mason Hansen, senior interior designer and principal with architecture firm Populous, said the $5 million renovations to the rooftop area will feature upscale bars and panoramic views of Louisville. Populous has been the design firm on Churchill Downs’ renovations and improvements.
This year’s improvements also include $4.4 million for an expanded and improved entry gate for fans with infield tickets. “We’ve really elevated that entry experience by creating a new colonnade there,” Hansen said.
She said the entry features new digital signage and better matches the new main entry gate and plaza that debuted last year. The infield area also features new artwork including a sculpture garden.
“The Derby experience is not just about the premium ticket; it is an event for everyone,” Hansen said. “There has been an effort to improve the experience across the board.”
Levy also will deploy four new portable concessions carts in the premium areas. Sutton sees that as an expanding feature at Churchill and other venues because portable carts, including those with battery-powered cooking stations, can be transformed and offer different items.
“We are trying to evolve the portable part of the business,” Sutton said. “These new carts that are being built have the ability to transform into multiple different things.”
Danielson said premium and other renovations at Churchill Downs have allowed Levy to move kitchen operations closer to fans.
“We’ve opened up a lot of these areas,” he said. “We’ve built display kitchens or we have moved a lot of that action out front and really created a much more interactive and personal experience for guests,” Danielson said.
“Whether it’s people pulling pizzas and stuff out of wood burning ovens, whether it’s different carving stations or induction action stations where chefs make small plates — any time we get to have interaction with the guests and have a more personal touch it really elevates the experience,” he said.