1) This is the second column of a new series, a series that might make Merritt Paulson angry, but will more likely make him howl with laughter. In this series, I’m going to tell you what I’d do if, one, I owned the Timbers/Thorns, and two, I was absurdly rich. Not Jeff Bezos-rich, but richer than Merritt Paulson. Rich enough that the team wasn’t my main source of income, but was more of a hobby. Rich enough that I didn’t need the team to make a profit, I just needed them to break even.
Last week, we talked about TriMet. This week, we’ll talk about food.
2) This week’s idea: the food at Providence Park is adequate at best. Even worse, it’s so overpriced, most of us have just stopped eating at games. My understanding is that there’s one concessions company in charge of pretty much the whole shebang, and I think they’re called Levy, though I’m not positive. It doesn’t really matter, because whoever it is, I’m gonna get rid of them and replace them with... wait for it... food carts.
3) The details: you know how the park has that one vending area, way over by the southside goal, that each game is run by a different food cart? It’s called Food Cart Alliance and that’s basically what I’ve got in mind, only for the whole damn stadium.
Every vending area in the park would be run by a different food cart. Not enough variety? Fine, we’ll split them. One cart runs the left half of the counter, another runs the right half. We’ll do it like that all around the stadium, which gives us, what, 20 carts? 30?
Which food carts will we use? I’d let the fans decide. I’d send a questionnaire to all season ticket holders asking for their favorite food carts. The top 20 or 30 or whatever will be invited to take over a vending area on game days.
4) The positives: the most obvious positive is that Providence Park would immediately have the best food of any sporting venue in the entire world. We’d have so many damn choices, you could hit a different cart every game. Week 1, you could try that Korean cart in back of the TA. Week 2, hit the Cuban cart behind section 110. Week 3, check out that Chicago pizza place. Or, hell, why not just get tater tots each week, but with a different seasoning each time?
With my plan, getting food at the park would become something you’d actually look forward to. That alone should be enough, but an added benefit is that your money would be going to a bunch of small, local businesses, rather than one big food service company.
5) The potential negatives: I can see many potential problems with this idea, and it’s hard to answer them since I know pretty much nothing about the concessions industry. Or food carts, for that matter.
First up, money. As the team owner, how much do I charge the food carts to come in on game days? What’s the break-even point for them? What’s the break-even point for me? The finances of this are a bit of a mystery, since I don’t know how much the Timbers currently make from concessions. I assume there’s a healthy profit, but I don’t know for sure.
Speaking of money, my plan would definitely make the food better, but would it be cheaper? How much will the carts charge customers? Same price as on the street? More? Less? Could I tell the carts how much they’re allowed to charge? Apparently, Atlanta United’s got super-cheap prices on certain things. Could I do that, too? Maybe I could require each cart to offer $1 hot dogs, in addition to their other, better, stuff. I could even supply them with the dogs and the buns. It would be something cheap and easy for anyone who doesn’t like weird food. Your fussy-eater five-year-old, for example.
Next up, speed. Would the carts be faster or slower than the current concessionaires? I have to imagine they’d be slow at first but get better over time. Perhaps they could cut their menu down to just a few popular items in the name of speed.
Next problem, it’s a much more complicated system. Right now, the Timbers have to deal with one concessionaire. Under my plan, we’d have to deal with dozens. And would they all be bringing their stuff to the park pre-game, then hauling it out again post-game? That would be a big pain in the ass. Actually, the whole plan might be a big pain in the ass for both them and me. But in this fantasy, I’m super-rich, so I guess I could just hire someone to be in charge of the whole thing. Any foodies out there want to be my imaginary food cart coordinator? Feel free to attach your imaginary resumes down below.
Next problem, food safety. According to the Multnomah County Environmental Health Department website they inspect food carts twice a year, same as restaurants. Would they need to be re-inspected at the park, or will their current Food Safety score cover them? If they have to be re-inspected before each and every game, this whole idea would be impossible.
6) In the real world, where Merritt Paulson still owns the team, could this actually happen? As always, it probably comes down to money. How much profit do the Timbers make from concessions? If it’s a big part of their profits, I doubt they’ll want to change anything. But if it’s a small profit or they just break even, why not change? Why not have the best food of any sports venue in the entire world?
Though, maybe money’s not the issue. Maybe complexity is. As I said above, my food cart plan might turn into a big pain in the ass. It seems likely that the team would rather focus on soccer stuff and let some big concessionaire worry about the food. But as I also said above, maybe one of you foodies would be happy to organize the whole thing for them. For a price, of course.
Anyway, it’s a neat idea and in the imaginary world where I own the team and am rich enough that I don’t need to make a profit, I’d definitely try to make this happen.
What do you think? Bad idea? Good idea but slightly flawed? What flaws do you spot? Gimme some ideas to fix them. Let’s see if we can make this happen – in our imaginary world, at least.