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Food business scoring big at college stadiums

September 23, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In the 1970s, Amundsen Commercial Kitchens would deliver ice to the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

President Cary Amundsen said that, at that time, concession-stand equipment was basic and included a hot dog steamer and a popcorn machine. Hot dogs were cooked in advance at the larger kitchen and sent around to each point of sale. Popcorn was done the same way, and that was a standard food offering at football stadiums.

That’s not the case today at sports venues. Amundsen was hired for the kitchen work at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field renovation. Food operator Levy Restaurants ordered two $20,000 smokers as part of the update. The meat is smoked and used in sandwiches and on nachos.

“Where we were then and where we are now: It’s like night and day,” said Amundsen.

The Journal Record reports that as football stadiums and other sports venues have expanded their food offerings, Amundsen has seen its business grow to keep up with demand. The company, which sells restaurant-grade kitchen equipment including refrigeration units and large ovens and grills, owns two buildings in Oklahoma City and is looking to open a permanent space in the Dallas metro. Amundsen is installing the $15 million kitchen at the new Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Amundsen estimates that sports-arena kitchens are probably about 20 percent of the company’s business and that will likely increase with a second location in Texas. When the company works in Texas now, it rents a house for the crews.

But finding the right people to bring on board for out-of-state jobs can be tough, so that’s why a new office would be helpful.

“There’s just a mountain of business down there,” he said.

Amundsen’s stadium kitchen work started in 2002 when the city of Oklahoma City built Chesapeake Energy Arena, a project from the original Metropolitan Area Projects sales tax collections. The company has worked on the arena’s updates since then.

Levy Restaurants operates the arena’s eateries on the suites level and the Continental Courtside Club. It also oversees the food at OU’s Gaylord football stadium.

Regional Manager Joe Guthrie has been with the company for 20 years and credited the company with changing the stadium food scene. He works at Chesapeake and the Gaylord.

At The Peake, he challenges the team to continue to have higher-end food. When he came to the city 10 years ago, he said he wouldn’t have called it a foodie town. Levy Chef Ryan Craig keeps his eye on the local food scene as well.

“It’s definitely evolved more,” Guthrie said. “People know what they want and are willing to try things.”

Putting higher-end food in college football stadiums is on the newer side of the change.

“College stadiums are becoming NFL stadiums,” he said. “It’s always changing. We want to keep changing to stay ahead of what our guests want.”

But keeping up with those changes requires newer equipment, which is where Amundsen and his team are ready to help. The company’s resume includes Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State University, the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, and Dallas Cowboy World Headquarters, better known as The Star In Frisco.

Amundsen first worked at Texas A&M about 10 years ago.

“We’re now on the approved lists for some stadium equipment vendors,” he said.

The stadium work offers a fun change for the employees, he said. Team flags hang in the company’s showroom. There’s also a sense of pride in working on such big projects.

But this side of the industry comes with a tough waiting game. Since Amundsen is installing equipment that needs electricity and clean areas, the team has to wait on other trades to get done with the space first. This means equipment that Amundsen has purchased — and he hasn’t been paid for yet — is sitting in storage, or even sitting on the job site.

“You’re spending a decent amount of money to get into this game,” Amundsen said. “But people want something better than two-day-old hot dogs. It’s a large capital investment to make that fan experience better.”

That equipment helps Guthrie and Craig do their jobs. Craig goes to OU games to help with food service when he’s not serving Oklahoma City Thunder fans.

″(Texas A&M’s food) is every bit as good as a pro stadium,” Amundsen said. “The freshness of the food is dramatically better than the 1970s and 1980s.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

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