Steve's Hot Dogs staff is making more sausages that they thought they could. It's the 4th of March, inside CityPark. The Major League Soccer home debut for expansion team St. Louis City SC.
The new Steve's Hot Dogs restaurant, one of 25 restaurants in St. Louis represented at the new Downtown West Stadium, would have ended the day with more than 1,500 dogs sold, which is about three times what it sells an average day on Grand Boulevard.
Jeremy Robinson said, 'I didn't think we could make that many hot dogs physically'. He is the Chief Growth Officer of Hustl Hospitality Group. This company owns Steve's Hot Dogs.
CityPark's emphasis on local restaurants as vendors is just the latest example of St. Louis sports venues bringing local flavor to their menus. Steve's sold hotdogs inside the Dome of America's Center at St. Louis Battlehawks matches as the XFL returned. Busch Stadium added a local restaurant last month, the first since 2018. This restaurant, Mission Taco Joint was one of many local food vendors that operated at Enterprise Center for St. Louis Blues games.
Venue operators claim that the inclusion of local restaurant brands gives their game-day experience a regional flavor, and also provides local businesses with the chance to increase awareness. The restaurateurs also say that the ventures have been profitable and are exposing their brand to a large number of new customers.
To get to this point, they had to make a number of adjustments. They had to reduce their menus in order to serve more customers, adjust their expense models so that they could adhere to their partnerships with food contractors, and take steps to protect the reputations they have worked so hard to establish.
Loryn Nálic, co-owner at Balkan Treat Box in CityPark, said that there was a learning curve when it came to the size of what they were doing. It's so far beyond our normal production and scaleability, it's quite daunting. It's also not just about that. The brand must be able to benefit from it creatively.
As one vendor at Busch Stadium learned several years ago, an expansion of this kind can be risky.
The Cardinals first attempt to welcome a local food vendor in Busch Stadium did not go according to plan.
Delaware North Sportservice of Buffalo, New York, which is Busch Stadium’s food contractor, partnered up with Gioia’s Deli to bring the Cardinals’ iconic St. Louis Hot Salami Sandwiches to the ballpark ahead of their 2018 season.
The experiment lasted only one day. Alex Donley, Gioia’s co-owner, declined to comment on the Business Journal. However, he said in an since-deleted post to Facebook that his family would be closing the food cart in the stadium because it didn't perform to their service and quality standards at the home opener.
Donley wrote in the post on Facebook, according to KSDK: "This is something that we cannot and will not stand for." We cannot guarantee that our standards of quality will be met in the ballpark. Therefore, we won't allow our products or brand to be sold there.
Rory Schroeder was the general manager of St. Louis Sportservice - a Delaware North division that runs concessions in Busch Stadium - and he told St. Louis Magazine that his company wasn't "prepared" for the popularity of the cart.
Shawn Baker, Director of Food and Beverage at Busch Stadium, said that Delaware North regrets the way things went down with Gioia’s. 'But we learned much, and we are very happy to have our partners now,' added Baker.
Adam and Jason Tilford are the brothers who run Mission Taco Joint. They said that preserving their brand came first when Baker approached them in October about becoming a food partner.
Delaware North, in an effort to prevent a repeat of Gioia’s experience, agreed to allow Mission Taco to be the first restaurant with full control of its back-of house staff at Busch Stadium. This will enable it to provide the same quality food as it does at its restaurants.
Baker explained that the deal took a long time because such things are common. Both parties were also very invested and interested in working out a deal, which helped to speed up the process.
Feeding the masses
Matt Sebek, Chief Experience Officer of City SC, said that the club wanted to use food to create an immersive and exciting experience for its fans and visitors.
The MLS franchise asked St. Louisans via social media which local food vendors they would like to see at CityPark. They received more than 10,000 responses.
Gerard Craft, the James Beard Award winning chef who runs Niche Food Group in St. Louis, Tennessee, and has eight restaurants, was brought in as the club’s ‘flavor officer’ to help facilitate the food offerings.
Sebek, who is the CityPark concessionaire manager, said that although the club did not provide figures on sales, it was clear that local restaurants have been amongst CityPark's top 10 sellers.
Steve's Hot Dogs and Balkan Treat Box have seen their sales surpass those of their brick and mortar operations, thanks in part to CityPark and the team's popularity.
Steve's Hot Dogs currently averages sales between 220 and 244 hot dogs per hours at CityPark. This compares to a pace of 50 per hour in its restaurant located at 3145 S. Grand Boulevard, Robinson stated. As a food provider for the St. Louis Battlehawks it has seen its sales increase. It averages about 170 hotdogs per hour.
Nalic estimates that the volume of Balkan Treat Box at CityPark is approximately 10 times greater than that of their brick-and mortar restaurant located at 8103 Big Bend Boulevard. Webster Groves.
Mission Taco sells more than 1,000 tacos per game at Busch Stadium, which is around 500 orders. Adam Tilford, however, said that comparing Busch Stadium's volume to the seven brick-and mortar locations of the restaurant is like comparing apples with oranges.
This is partly because stadium operations have a menu that has been significantly reduced to fit the stadium environment.
Mission, for instance, offers 12 different varieties of tacos in its restaurants, along with a similar selection of appetizers, burritos and tortas. Busch only offers four types of tacos plus street corn, nachos and other items.
Steve's Hot Dogs, and Balkan Treat Box are both serving a scaled-down version of their full menus. There is little to no customization available.
Nalic stated that it was difficult to create a menu for the brand that would be both appealing and easy to execute in a high-volume, fast-paced setting.
Prepare for the game day
Even with a small menu, preparations for one game day can take several days. This is because, while most restaurant food is prepared to order, stadium food has to be ready for game day.
Nalic added that it was a night and day difference. She has been working on something for CityPark's concession stand at least once a day since March, when the season began. She stated that the work load has increased significantly.
Staff who work in the front-of house, such as those who run the point-of sale systems, also face additional stress.
Robinson stated that the credit card transaction sets the pace. As fast as we are able to complete a transaction, a customer can be served because everything is ready.
The game schedules are also important in terms of operational practices.
Nalic stated that he believed there was only room for growth. The more we learn how to serve more food, we will be able make more profit for both us and our customers.
Mission Taco has just celebrated its second anniversary at Enterprise Center. The Tilfords say they are able to order supplies more easily because of the Cardinals and Blues schedules. These often feature multiple consecutive home games. Mission Taco, on the other hand, can order in advance for a series of games at home and then adjust its inventory as homestands progress.
Enterprise Center, like other St. Louis sporting events, offers a variety of local food vendors, such as Lion's Choice for their roast beef sandwiches and Hi-Pointe Drive-In for burgers and sandwich.
Steve Chapman said that the partnership between the St. Louis Blues and local restaurants is a unique collaboration. The Blues are working with the local restaurateurs, and Levy Restaurants in Chicago, which is the venue's food and beverage contractor. He declined to comment on any specific terms.
He said, "Our goal is to give guests a taste of St. Louis and provide the best possible products, as well as make the experience worthwhile for us and our partner."
Costs of exposure on game day
According to Danni Eickhorst of Hustl Hospitality Group, co-owner of Steve's Hot Dogs and CEO of Hustl Hospitality Group, in a perfect universe, every restaurant would achieve a 30/30/20/20 model of expense-profit.
This model allocates 30% of the restaurant's revenues to labor costs, another 30% to the cost of the goods sold, and 20% for operating expenses. The remaining 20% goes towards profit. She joked that restaurants seldom hit this target.
The revenue sharing model is used for stadium concessions. This means that the total sales are split between the restaurant, the stadium food contractor, and the stadium.
She said that the amount of overhead paid by the contractor is usually more than 20% of the revenue. This makes the revenue split profitable for both parties.
She said that the revenue split could also increase food prices in stadiums, since both parties want to make a profit. For example, at Steve's Hot Dogs the St. Louis Dog is $8 in its restaurant, but $14 at CityPark.
KSDK reported that Mission Taco Joint charges nine dollars for two tacos in Busch Stadium. This is the same price as its restaurant, where one taco costs $3.50 to $4.50. Balkan's stadium prices are slightly higher than those in their restaurant. City SC's CityPark app charges $17.99 per kebab at CityPark.
The parties involved declined to reveal how revenue is divided, and the costs covered by Delaware North or other teams can vary depending on each venue.
Baker stated that Delaware North provided Mission Taco front-of house workers at Busch Stadium, which is the staff who take orders and payments.
Sebek explained that CityPark is different, in that both the front and back of house staff are under the control of the food partner. The club also offers technology support, packaging material and performance data. City SC collects information on how many customers are buying food at each restaurant, the best-performing products of the restaurants and the times when mobile orders and sales are most popular.
He said: 'Anything that we can access, we want to make sure they know.' The idea that a local company can simply show up at a stadium with 22,000 people and sell food is absurd.
The Tilfords stated that they had signed two contracts to bring Mission Tacos to Busch Stadium. One contract was with Delaware North, for food, and another with the Cardinals, for marketing.
All of the restaurant owners said that marketing played a role in their decision to become a food partner at a sporting event, since the exposure allows the public to better familiarize themselves with their brand.
Eickenhorst stated that the revenues earned at CityPark, The Dome at America's Center and Steve's Meltdown will be used to fund future expansions at her restaurant holdings.