Video Produced by Nathan Mikita
Football season is back and with it comes amazing food, amazing fans, and of course, a whole lot of showmanship. In this episode of “BUILT.,” see the sights and the sounds of Michael Mina's Tailgate experience at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s® Stadium and learn how passion and vision can come together to create a foodservice operation that doesn't shy away from going big! (The only “going home” is guests going home happy.)
Levi’s® Stadium officially opened its doors on Sept. 14, 2014, when the 49ers took on the Chicago Bears. The state-of-the-art, 1.3 billion-dollar-stadium-seat venue (that can fit just below 70,000 people) has 8,500 club seats and 165 luxury suites. That is a lot of mouths to feed. When the stadium was in its early design phases, the York family, who own the 49ers, knew that they wanted to elevate the foodservice operation. So, they reached out to James Beard Award-winning chef and avid 49ers fan Michael Mina.
"Michael is the hugest 49ers fan that we know. He was a 23-year season ticket holder at the time that this concept came up for discussion," Director of Sales and Business Development for the 49ers, Paul Epstein, said. "[Michael] married his passions, he loves food, he loved the culinary art — he loves his 49ers."
Mina was already tailgating at the old 49ers stadium, Candlestick Park, bringing guests chef, and friends to the games and cooking food for the fans. But this would be something totally new and unique.
Mina wanted to make sure that if he had the opportunity to put in a restaurant, that there would be a tailgate party.
"I had always been that chef that...was over creative, and all my team would [say] we can't do this... It can't be done," he said.
Enter Ken Schwartz, FCSI consultant and founder of SSA in Tampa, Fla. Schwartz and his team have worked on projects that include resorts, casinos, restaurants, airports, and hotels, and has worked with the Mina Group on several projects throughout the years. Schwartz and his team pride themselves on allowing the operator to define the guest experience and designing the operation around that vision.
"Ken was great because Ken is the guy that tells me that we can get it done,” Mina said.
Several challenges needed to be solved. Their vision for the guest experience was to package the excited energy and adrenaline of a parking lot tailgate and refine it into an actual physical, sleek restaurant design. How did they bring it all together?
"The responsibility was on us to figure out... how to make it work, how it would function," said Ken Schwartz.
For one, as soon as fans walk in, they look up and see streetlights. When they look down, they see the lines they would find on a parking lot. These little, playful, authentic touches make them feel at tailgate-home from the first glance. The layout of the space itself — wide, open, and inviting —creates a super social, casual, and fun environment.
Beyond its look, the concept also emphasizes what Mina considers a core element of tailgate cooking: rotisserie. Thanks to Schwartz’s help, they were able to bring a two-sided, two-story rotisserie to life — it can cook an 1100-pound animal whole, which means more food for fans.
From the space’s unique rotisserie buildout to its seafood boiling stations, all the equipment is custom and completely gas-fired, allowing them to do away with different hood systems and allowing them to save $280,000 on the project.
And what equipment brand does Schwartz trust? Halton.
“Halton has been a leader in research and development…. The systems that have been developed by Halton actually allow their systems to exhaust at a lower CFM than any of their competitors on the market,” he said, adding that it equates to lower operating costs and capital investment.
Want to learn more on how this collaboration gives fans the ultimate tailgate experience? Watch the full episode now.