Allianz Field hosts its first-ever Minnesota United home match on Saturday, and the new stadium is inviting the whole neighborhood to celebrate.
That goes for many of its workers and the fans in the stands, but also the food they’ll be eating and beverages they’ll drink. The club tapped St. Paul chefs Justin Sutherland and Bill Van Stee to create a concessions program reflective of the stadium’s community plus a pinch of the sport’s global roots. Sutherland is a St. Paul restaurateur and former Top Chef contestant. Van Stee, meanwhile, is executive chef at Delaware North who spent the last 10 years heading up the concessions program at the Twins’ Target Field.
Together, the pair has worked for more than three months to curate the food and beverage program at Allianz Field.
“Soccer is a very international and diverse sport and the neighborhood the stadium was dropped into is very diverse,” Sutherland. “We wanted to tell the story of Minnesota and make sure it is being inclusive of cuisines of the sport and neighborhood. We wanted to make sure we included the St. Paul staples, the mom and pop shops, and be more than hot dogs and pretzels.”
Those old standbys will still be available in-stadium but the two chefs also made sure to reach out to local food partners to bring in more than a dozen restaurants that feature everything from Indian and Greek to soul food.
“We want to offer them the opportunity to showcase their brands inside the stadium,” said Sutherland. “We asked what kind of cuisines are in our backyard and sought out partners so our fans can have a surprise they didn’t expect to see when they walked in.”
The diversification of concessions options has been a trend going for several years and continues to intensify with local options across the nation. Now, teams and venues are increasingly turning to the “hyper-local” options like at Allianz Field, Aramark Sports and Entertainment President Carl Mittleman told Front Office Sports in January. Aramark doesn’t handle the food service at Allianz Field, but does at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“Local doesn’t cut it anymore — hyper- and flexible- local are becoming more and more popular,” Mittleman said. “Guests are looking for menus representing the community, culture, and flavors that surround them.”
The options at Minnesota United games will also come as a relief to fans, according to a recent study released by Phononic, which found 73 percent of Americans want a wider selection of food at recreational venues.
Now that the menu is in place, Van Stee says the greatest challenge comes in actually serving it. The structure of a soccer game offers one 20-minute halftime break in which fans can safely hit the concessions stand knowing they won’t miss any game action. That creates one flood of activity that other sports have the luxury of navigating over hours.
Sutherland, who has eight restaurants of his own, related the quick service in the stadium to being a “20,000-seat restaurant.”
To combat this, Allianz Field has aggressively staffed with local employees and implemented systems Delaware North has developed during its years of providing venue’s food service. It also has installed high-speed, quick-service kiosks throughout the concourse as well as plenty of point-of-services at concession counters.
“We want to push people through as fast as possible with those time windows,” Van Stee said. “We have that 20-minute intermission to get fans through fast and get them back to their seats. That was really important to both Delaware and the team.”
The beverage program was also important to the soccer club, which placed a focus on bringing in a variety of Minnesota craft beers such as Surly Brewing, Summit Brewing and Lift Bridge.
“We have a lot of great options for this craft brew age we’re in,” Sutherland said. “The beer varieties will vary from stand to stand, but it’s not just one special beer at a tiny location.”
The fruits of their labor are finally available on Saturday, but Van Stee and Sutherland know the real work is only beginning. They understand it’s their job to feed every fan in the stadium and not all fans have the same wants and desires from their concessions. More than that, those needs will change over time.
“We strive for the variety we know the community has,” Van Stee said. “That’s our vision as we grow into this space. We’ll continue to expand on that.”