Lunch at the new Food Network stand in Cleveland’s Progressive Field last week was, well…just so-so. But the tour it was part of still produced plenty of valuable information for RH Extra readers. If you want to know how deeply recent food trends have penetrated into mainstream foodservice, read on.
Let’s back up a little first. The Food Network stand in Cleveland is located in a prime spot at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. It’s part of an ongoing collaboration between foodservice provider Delaware North Companies, the eight major league clubs for whom Delaware North handles concessions and premium dining and the Food Network. The deal calls for the Food Network to create signature items for the clubs’ private venues and design a sandwich or two that can be sold from mobile carts located beneath the stands.
The idea is to tap into the brand power of the Food Network. That’s if you buy into the premise that a cable television network has brand power when it comes to preparing food. We know the chefs who appear on the Food Network have plenty of personal brand power. But this isn’t their gig. All we could find out about the anonymous folks preparing ballpark eats on behalf of the network is that they’re part of the “Food Network’s deep team of chefs at its test kitchen in New York City.”
If the two sandwiches we sampled at the Food Network cart in Cleveland—that’s the entire menu—are any example, let’s hope the team heads back to their test kitchen and comes up with something different. One offering the “Red, White and Blue steak sandwich,” combined Maytag blue cheese, sweet and spicy Peppadew-pepper mayonnaise and some good beef on a French demi baguette. Our tour group consensus: topping an otherwise-fine steak sandwich with these upscale ingredients was a case of subtraction by addition. This same sandwich will be available this summer at the other seven baseball parks where Delaware North handles the foodservice.
A second option, meant to appeal to the particular taste of the Cleveland market, added sauerkraut and local favorite Bertman’s brown Polish mustard to an otherwise similar steak sandwich. Sauerkraut and beef—that’s a tough sell, even in Cleveland. Especially at $10.25 per sandwich.
So if you were hoping for some hot inside information on food trends courtesy of the Food Network’s test kitchens, you’re out of luck. The cable network might be geniuses at getting people to watch shows about food, but that expertise doesn’t seem to necessarily translate to stadium foodservice at the moment. However, other new stadium offerings from Delaware North confirm that some of the hottest trends in foodservice do work well in a ballpark setting. Here are four that caught our eye:
- Gourmet burgers: Baseball stadium food sales are traditionally dominated by hot dogs. But at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Delaware North has added a dedicated stand just for gourmet burgers to its carefully calibrated mix of foodservice options. “Burgers Loaded” customers can pick and choose from among 20 toppings for their premium beef burger. Business at this stand is strong, so if you’re wondering whether to add an upscale burger option to your menu, be assured there’s a market for it.
- Soul food. It’s not a traditional hot weather food, nor does it translate well to a grab-and-go situation like a baseball stadium. But Delaware North is giving it a try with a chicken-and-waffle sandwich that has been retooled for hand-held consumption in a ballpark.
- Fresh and local. Do people care about the provenance of the food they eat at a baseball game? Apparently so, because Delaware North is paying thorough attention to local and regional suppliers and fresh ingredients—at least as much as is possible within the context of a stadium dining operation. And yes, there was a gluten-free stand, which had a sizable line all during the pregame.
- Retro beer. The ballpark idea most easily adoptable to the full-service restaurant realm could be found at a stand labeled “Your Dad’s Beer.” This concept consists of a dedicated beer stand that serves old-school beers, with a lower price point to match. There are plenty of microbrew options at Progressive Field, plus Budweiser everywhere you look. Those who want something else can now pick from a lineup that includes old-school brews such as Blatz, Carling Black Label, Genesee, Iron City, Little Kings, Schaefer, Stroh’s and more. Throw in a low price ($4.50) and retro snacks and it’s an instant brand. Pabst Blue Ribbon has shown us there’s a big market among the anti-microbrew crowd. This gives you a way to take that idea and run with it.
If you’re looking for a low-risk addition to your menu or beverage program, these ballpark-proven options could be a good place to start.