Rule No. 1 in stadium food service: Never run out of hot dogs. Change things around if you want, sell fancier plate lunches, gourmet coffees, whatever, but if you run out of hot dogs, you may as well hit the road and never come back.
UH fans arriving at Aloha StadiumWhat's new on the menu
for Saturday's opening home game
will find barbecue smoke in the air
and a new gang of cooks in town
By Betty Shimabukuro
So Lois Sismar is stocking up on 40,000 hot dogs for Saturday night's football game at Aloha Stadium, the first home game of the University of Hawaii Warriors' season. She's figuring on selling about half that number but doesn't want to risk running out. The leftovers will keep, after all, for next game.
Sismar is Hawaii regional manager for Volume Services America, the company that has handled food service at Aloha Stadium since January's Pro Bowl. She and operations manager Ella Gonzalez are gearing up for the first UH season in their 10-year contract, and they are determined that the food be way more interesting than it's ever been.
With all due respect, of course, to the hot dogs. "And your popcorn and your nachos," Gonzalez acknowledges. Plus, "you know our local people need our andagi."
But change is good, and potentially lucrative, so in with the new: Texas-style barbecue, local-style two-scoop-rice plate lunches, sub sandwiches and -- ooh-la-la -- granitas and capuccinos from a new Kona Café. Even standard concession food is getting an optional upgrade: You'll be able to buy your basic soft pretzel fancied up and filled with apple, cream cheese or jalapeño; or trade in your $2.75 hot dog for a $6, half-pound, foot-long, all-beef Eisenberg Chicago-style dog (extra for grilled onions and peppers, but can't you just taste it?).
Volume Services -- that first name says it all, volume -- is headquartered in South Carolina and runs NFL and minor-league baseball stadiums across the country. Among the company's properties are Mile High Stadium in Denver and 3 Com in San Francisco, home of the 49ers. In Hawaii the company handles Sea Life Park, Ala Moana Beach Park, Blaisdell Arena, the Waikiki Shell and Hanauma Bay, to mention a few.
Sismar, who has trained at some of the mainland stadiums, says the main difference with Aloha Stadium is not the food or the clientele, but the weather. It encourages tailgating, and those parking-lot picnics represent a whole lot of food not being purchased within the stadium.
She's hoping to pull some of that crowd through the gates early by offering Hawaiian entertainment -- Pineapple Squeeze and Rod Tanu and Friends -- performing free in the north and south plazas from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The beer will be flowing (Gordon Biersch, in new expanded digs), and the essence of barbecue will scent the air.
"We want to try and offer these things so people won't want to tailgate," Sismar says.
"A football game is no longer just a football game. It's entertainment."
UH games promise the biggest crowds of all Volume Services' local operations -- 50,000 potential customers in a sellout. Then again, there are only eight home games, plus the Pro Bowl, so you've got to get it right from game one. This means being long on food and short on lines. "People get distracted by long lines," Sismar says. "They say, 'Forget it.'"
Between the big games, at high school games, concerts and other events, Volume Services handles all the food in house. But for those UH/Pro Bowl games, a few subcontractors have been invited in.
Sismar and Gonzalez evaluate vendors based on the quality of their food and, to a large degree, their ability to handle crowds. Even a fast-paced restaurant kitchen serving 200 meals a night could be overwhelmed by thousands of ravenous football fans, Sismar says.
Compadres Bar & Grill was one of the subcontractors that had initially committed to the stadium, but pulled out after evaluating the scope of the job, Sismar says. She still hopes to bring in a Mexican-food vendor.
Yummy Korean Bar-B-cue was awarded the overall stadium contract last year but lasted just one season, unable to deal with the volume. That's when Sismar's company stepped in.
Some of the subcontractors who will be there Saturday are relatively small, new operations. Scotty Boys Barbecue has been in Waipahu just two years; Molly's Smokehouse in Wahiawa, also just two years. But both have fine-tuned the practice of hauling their portable smokers to various locations and serving hundreds upon hundreds of walk-up customers.
Manoa Catering Co., which is offering beef teriyaki and hibachi chicken plates under the name Favorite Island Foods, is a longtime catering operation which until a few months ago ran Jumbos drive-ins.
All three see the value of this venue as, No. 1, money to be made and, No. 2, name recognition.
"You're a small business and looking for every opportunity you can get to get your name out there," says Margaret "Molly" Walker.
Walker has worked craft fairs, festivals, the annual Honolulu City Lights soiree ... but she actually began working events like this at age 5. She and her six siblings helped their parents sell food at rodeos, cattle auctions and big games in San Antonio. "We sold everything from popcorn and cotton candy to barbecue."
Some of those events catered to 60,000 people and up, Walker says. She remembers peeling potatoes, cleaning beans, "whatever my dad told me to do."
For Saturday's crowd she'll pack 100 pounds of pork, 120 pounds of beef, 70 pounds of ribs and 200 pounds of chicken. She'll carry insulated boxes to keep her baked beans hot and her potato salad cold, and she'll pull her smoker in on a trailer. Crowds don't scare her.
"When you're set up to be portable and you have a system down, it's not a problem."
Bottom line, folks, how is the new food? Les Keiter, the former sportscaster who is now spokesman for Aloha Stadium, throws a luncheon every year just before the football season begins. Invited are sports reporters and UH coaches.
Sismar and Gonzalez offered up their new foods for sampling.
"They put on a table that was unbelievable," Keiter says.
"They served a variety of food that you've never seen before at the stadium. People just raved about it, and these were hard-nosed media guys who don't throw compliments around."
How 'bout them ribs?A sampling of what's new on the menu at Aloha Stadium for UH Warrior games:
Scotty Boys Barbecue Kiawe-smoked ribs plate $9.50 Kiawe-smoked chicken plate $8 Big Pig pork sandwich $7 Kielbasa sausage on roll $7 Gordon Biersch Stadium burger/garlic fries $6.50 Favorite Island Foods Beef teriyaki plate $6 Hibachi chicken plate $6 Mollys Smokehouse Chicken plate $5 Rib plate $7 Pork sandwich $3.50 Eisenberg Chicago Hot Dogs Foot-long Polish sausage $6.75 With onions and peppers $7.50 Other specialties Volcano popcorn $2 to $6 Gourmet coffees $3.25 to $3.75 Talo mochi on a stick $2
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