As ballparks across the nation geared up for the start of the 2014 season, the folks at foodservice corporation Aramark debuted a slue of new menu items in the nine Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums it serves. As in any restaurant operation, menu innovation at sports stadiums is born from consumer trends, and this year’s lineup reveals baseball fans are looking for locally tailored flavor profiles and lots of variety.
“If you look at stadium food 10 or 15 years ago, it was pretty much a hot dog–based menu with a mix of whatever the local flavor was,” says Jeremy Campbell, concessions director at Citizens Bank Park, home of the MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies. Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and Aramark has been with the Phillies since the team played in its former home, Veterans Stadium, Campbell adds.
“Moving into a new facility in 2004 brought the ability to enhance the menu, so when we opened here, it was state of the art across the board, from all the equipment used to make the food to what the menu was,” he says.
The new Aramark items at Citizens Bank Park include a Brisket Grilled Cheese with house-braised brisket and Pepper Jack on griddled Texas toast and a Philly Cheese Steak Dog topped with melted cheese and optional onions. They are also introducing a pastrami sandwich, Campbell says.
“We look at the menu and say, ‘Okay, we have all this great stuff. What don’t we have?’ We wanted to do a signature deli sandwich you would find at your local deli,” he says. “We taste tested five or six different sandwiches—there was a lobster roll, a grilled cheese with short rib inside. The winner was the pastrami sandwich.”
At PNC Park, home of the MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, Aramark unveiled The Closer, an overstuffed grilled cheese sandwich with four slices of sourdough, nine different cheeses, candied bacon, and a leek and granny smith apple compote.
“We also have this new item we call Tatchos,” says Steve Musciano, Aramark general manager at PNC Park, of another menu innovation. “They’re deep-fried tater tots topped with nacho cheese, chili, sour cream, and chives. They’re located currently at our Diamond Pizza, but we’ve had such a good response, we’re going to spread them out to two different locations in a couple weeks.”
PNC Park opened in 2001, and Aramark has been with Pirates for 40 years, Musciano says. Since opening, he says, the park’s foodservice has continually evolved in terms on menu innovation.
“Let’s face it: Hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, soda—they’re always going to be No. 1. But we’ve morphed into a lot more than that,” he says. “Aramark has always crafted different and unique sandwiches.”
Beyond the food Aramark offers, brining in local brands is key to foodservice success in the ballpark, Musciano and Campbell say.
At PNC Park, local favorites include sandwich shop Primanti Brothers, Quaker Steak & Lube, Nakama Sushi, and Papa Duke’s Gyro. Musciano says PNC also debuted a concept for healthy eating options that offer variety to those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.
“Our Just4U stand is a healthy-option stand. It serves gluten-free items. But I wanted to make it more that just gluten free,” he says. “We find that allergies and things like that are very important these days, so we created a stand that’s more for all the fans, and it just happens to be gluten free and vegetarian. We have a new seasonal salad there. … Right now it’s a spinach, dried cherries, and goat cheese salad.”
“It’s becoming an easier decision to say, ‘I’m going to the ballpark, so I’ll just eat when I get there,’ because of all the variety,” Campbell says.
At Citizens Bank Park, local brands are key to offering variety and include seafood concept Chickie’s & Pete’s, Planet Hoagie, Seasons Pizza, Tony Luke’s Steaks, and Turkey Hill Ice Cream.
“The Aramark portion of our menu, as large as it is, pales in comparison to what our local partners can bring to the table. Chickie’s & Pete’s is as Philadelphia as the Liberty Bell,” Campbell says. “If you’re going to bring in neighborhood flavors, they have to be authentic and original, which is why we partner with all these brands.”
He adds Aramark’s corporate team understands the importance of having local appeal and supports these types of partnerships.
“The stuff we’ve been able to do with incorporating our well-trained culinary team with concessions have been amazing, which is why we win a lot of awards and accolades for being such a great destination for food,” Campbell says.
By Tamara Omazic