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One-on-one: Richard Hesse, regional director, Aramark
Mark Bisson speaks to the regional director of Aramark at Coors Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies
What did you guys do from the outset?
We started off with some pretty unique things. We wanted
to brew our own beer, for example. Blue Moon was invented in this stadium. We also wanted to bring in something that was characteristic of Downtown Denver, so we served Rocky Mountain oysters, and still do. These are bulls’ testicles, a fried delicacy served with great sauces. It’s a dish that certainly sparks conversation! We have since expanded our offerings to include things such as buffalo dogs and elk sausages.
Why do you continually shake things up?
As new trends hit the food and beverage industry or the Denver hospitality scene, we look to introduce these items. We do our research. Even though we have some hardcore baseball fans here, we also have a lot of social fans who
come for the experience and to enjoy the atmosphere. Food and beverage is a big part of that.
What inspires your approach to F&B?
It’s not enough to only offer traditional F&B anymore. The modern guest expects everything to be cutting edge at a sports venue. But this year we are going back to basics because we think sometimes you can have too much variety. We are making sure we don’t forget what got us here. Some 75-80% of fans still want the traditional fare.
What ideas have come from outside of sport?
We were the first ballpark to introduce a gluten-free concession stand. This was very popular with fans. We had no idea so many people would want their chicken sandwich or hotdog gluten-free – an idea that came from observing wider trends in the catering sector. Now most ballparks do it.
How do you capitalise on food trends?
In 2011, the food truck craze spread to the middle of the country, so we bought one in. Our chef came up with a great noodle concept and we set the truck up on the concourse [Wok in the Park]. We don’t want to be on the backside of a trend when we introduce it to Coors Field; we try to catch it at its peak so fans are really excited about it. The fans loved the truck, but it ran its course and it went last year. Similarly when the frozen yoghurt craze hit, we dedicated a couple of our ice cream stands to it. It was very well received and we saw a 50% increase in revenue.
What is your approach to upscale catering?
The food served in our clubs and suites is every bit as good – if not better – than in high-end hotels.
How successful is the onsite brewery?
Our brews win awards at beer festivals. Batch 19, a pre-Prohibition style lager, was introduced for the Rockies 20th anniversary. The fans love it! But we need to improve the brew concept. It is made, bottled and supplied at Coors Field; the brewers are finding it hard to keep up with demand!
What about the herb and vegetable garden?
We partnered with Colorado State University, which specialises in agriculture for this 600ft2 creation. It was very important to keep it sustainable.
What’s next for Coors Field?
In Denver, everybody loves going to local bars and grills with rooftop patios, listening to music, having food and watching a game. We want to bring that into Coors Field. It’s a lot of work, but we hope it will happen next year.
How do you measure Aramark’s success?
It is 100% fan feedback and satisfaction. As long as you keep the fans happy, everything else will follow. We use insights and analytics to keep on the pulse of our guests.
What concepts have flopped?
That list is huge! We rolled out a street taco concept and were sure it would be a huge hit; most people love Mexican food but it only lasted a couple of months. We also introduced a baked potato with BBQ beef and green chillies. We thought it was a winner but it didn’t go down well at all.
Are you rolling out any hits to other venues?
Aramark services 11 MLB ballparks. Each does its own research and development. We pool best practices and we’ve certainly stolen ideas from others, but we’re also very competitive. After we created the brewery, many venues copied that concept. We’re lucky to have a beautiful place to work and a client that challenges us to invent new things.