New Food Choices at Lambeau Field Change the Standard for Stadium Fare
New food choices, reducing waste all part of the challenge at Lambeau Field
When we think of stadium food and the large companies that often supply it, the concept of an organic, locally-grown product just doesn’t fit. And in some ways things haven’t necessarily changed a great deal.
But when you sit down with Charlie Millerwise it becomes clear that the times, as Bob Dylan so aptly phrased it, they are a changing.
Millerwise oversees all food operations at Lambeau Field from the massive game-day demands to the everyday requirements at Curly’s Pub. He works for Delaware North Companies, which is not only one of the largest food service and hospitality companies in the country but also one of the largest privately held companies as well.
This story was initially aimed at exploring the nutritional approach taken by a professional football team when feeding its players.
The people I talked to from the Packers were pleasant, but admitted that in the world of big-time sports any competitive edge is vital and diet falls into one of those areas.
They suggested I look at the bigger picture and the feeding of all the team’s fans. I was hesitant until I met Millerwise. During our interview, he sits in his cramped office amidst other cramped offices that constitute the Green Bay outpost of Delaware North’s Lambeau operation. Millerwise looks comfortable despite the beehive of activity outside his office and on his cell phone. It was less than a week before the Packers’ regular season opener against the Washington Redskins, after all. Millerwise dismisses the cramped conditions under the stadium.
“This is where we take delivery of the food so that’s good,” he said, referring to the handy location.
And there is a lot of food. There has to be for an expanded Lambeau with a capacity now approaching 80,000. Not your typical backyard barbecue or even ambitious tailgate party.
Millerwise picks up and thumbs through the food order on his desk – 14,000 hot dogs, 10,000 hamburgers, 14,000 pieces of pizza, 8,000 soft pretzels and brats, the king of the Lambeau concession stand. Millerwise has ordered 18,000 of those.
It hardly sounds like the balanced, nutrition- based fare that would meet the standards of today’s organic-based, locally produced food movement. But Millerwise would tend to disagree.
With a background in culinary preparation, Millerwise can recognize a trend when he sees it. Even though a large portion of the masses that were about to descend on Lambeau Field remain content to bellyup to the concession stands and order up a brat and beer with nachos on the side, things are changing.
“Absolutely,” he insists. “With food all over the television, it’s making more and more people aware and concerned about what they are ingesting. The movement has legs.” So much so, says Millerwise, that food concessions in other parts of the country (primarily on the West Coast) have gone to signage to breakdown the recipes in their offerings and he insists that will happen here.
“It always seems to work from the coasts towards the center of the country,” said Millerwise, who should know since he’s worked out West for Delaware North. “The days of the pre-wrapped hot dog are gone.”
There’s something nostalgic about getting a foil-wrapped dog in a soggy bun that had been compressed with way too many dogs in a cooler to keep them lukewarm. And, yes, we eagerly pay stadium prices for it.
People may not realize it, but Millerwise points out that actually chefs have a hand in the food preparation with as many as 40 stationed around the stadium on the day of the game.
While the bulk of the fans stand in line at the concession stand and face a rather limited menu, club and luxury box seating offers an entirely different culinary experience. You can have your Door County Salad (new to the menu this year) to go with shaved prime rib, for example.
It all extends from Delaware North’s kitchens that must also meet the demands of 1,200 plate-catered events inside the Lambeau Field Atrium throughout the year.
Considering Delaware North’s size, Lambeau Field would seem like a speck on the company’s vast assortment of hospitality venues that branch beyond stadium services into national parks, airports, resorts and beyond.
But Millerwise insists that Lambeau Field is a perfect fit for the company, which was founded in 1915 by the Jacobs brothers (Louis, Marvin and Charles) as a modest popcorn and peanut vending business in Buffalo, New York. But in 1939, the company was venturing into the sports concession business when it signed a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Louis’ son Jeremy now runs the company assisted by his three sons and the Tigers remain the company’s longest existing account.
“We like these type of iconic venues,” said Millerwise. But many of its clients and their stadiums are not old. The company also operates concessions at Miller Park in Milwaukee and the new Minnesota Twins’ stadium.
This is the second year Delaware North has been at Lambeau and “It just feels right,” he added.
But football presents a different challenge for Millerwise than baseball does and that reaches into the zero waste issues that confront today’s food industry as much as local sourcing, sustainability and organic product.
Family picnics can produce leftovers for a week so you can imagine what kind of waste a crowd of 80,000 people can produce. “We have a plan in place,” said Millerwise, who attacks the issues on the front end with effective ordering. But he must have enough food, so there needs to be alternatives for the leftovers.
This is where football differs from baseball, which may have games six or seven days in a row. Football doesn’t have the luxury. At Lambeau, some of the food can be effectively resourced in certain recipes at Curly’s Pub, but even on good nights the restaurant doesn’t come close to absorbing food like it can succeeding nights at Miller Park.
Millerwise looks to local pantries like Paul’s Pantry in Green Bay to also absorb quite a bit of food. In the end, “We don’t have a ton of waste,” he said.
Millerwise points to a company’s registered program called GreenPath that sprung from Delaware North’s bid to obtain the concession rights at Yosemite National Park. That successful bid involved the removal of some leaking, underground storage tanks left by a previous contractor. “There are certain elements of sustainability that go with a national park,” he said.
On its website, Delaware North emphasizes its commitment to the use of local ingredients and organic or sustainable foods items. It has clients who have committed to the use of a “100-mile Menu” to better use local produce and cut distribution costs.
Millerwise, who spent three years in Detroit, used the example of the vegetable supplier whose produce came from gardens just outside Detroit and the threefold increase in sales it produced at Tigers games.
Of course, baseball is played in the summer during the growing season and Millerwise admits the limited growing season in the upper Midwest can handicap the effectiveness of such a plan during the football season.
Still, efforts are made to use locally sourced products from suppliers who can handle the demands of such a massive crowd.
Wisconsin-based producers like Johnsonville, Sargento and Miller Brewing help to keep product within the 150-mile circle of supply Millerwise hopes to achieve.
“We try to source locally as much as possible,” said Millerwise, who knows that the future of the business rests in the ability to adapt to an audience that will continue to demand more from the concession stand.
“I love food. Food is fun,” said Millerwise. “There is so much research and development that is going on. You can do fabulous food in a sports setting.”