“It’s a real wine bar—it’s not just a concession stand,” Mr. Mantuano, author of the simply titled new cookbook Wine Bar Food, said proudly. “Look at these people,” he said of the crowd clustered around his outdoor kiosk on Monday afternoon, the first official day of tournament play. “They’re enjoying a glass of wine and they’re eating food that’s prepared right in front of their eyes. You could plop this down anywhere and it would be easily recognized as a wine bar.”
Naturally, New York’s most star-studded sporting event demands nothing less than the most fashionable foods and beverages, which is why local Levy operatives spend much of the off-season hopping from restaurant to restaurant on the lookout for the latest shifts in culinary customs. Hence, the big focus this year on such items as locally grown produce and striped bass fished fresh from the Atlantic.
“Our first customer was Stanley Tucci,” noted Mr. Mantuano, referring to the two-time Golden Globe-winning actor from the HBO films Winchell and Conspiracy. “He was the celebrity line ump that day, and he came up after he was done and had a couple of glasses of pinot grigio and some marinaded olives and was very complimentary.”
THE FOOD SERVICE has long been an important component of the Open, dating back to the first slice of quiche Lorraine served up courtside nearly 30 years ago.
And it can be a very lucrative component, with some past tournaments reportedly generating upward of $12 million in revenue—perhaps not surprising, given the prices, ranging from $6 foot-long dogs to $6,000 seafood towers served to the center’s 100 private suites.
“We do a lot of business here over 14 days,” said Levy Restaurants CEO Andy Lansing. “I can’t publicly say exactly how much.”
It has been a fairly controversial component, too, with prior Opens facing protests over the high prices, slow service and a former ban prohibiting fans from bringing in food from outside the tennis center grounds—a policy slightly altered in 2003 after much uproar. (The 2008 Open allows outside food items only “in limited quantities, or for medical, dietary or infant purposes,” according to posted security procedures.)
At least one prior concessions contractor, Sportservice Corporation of Buffalo, buckled under the pressure, resigning in 1998 after completing only two years of its seven-year contract.
Levy, now in its third year at the Open, after taking over from New York-based Restaurant Associates—both of which are owned by global Compass Group—is under contract through 2017.
The Chicago company may be as qualified as anyone to endure the daunting task, year after year. Its diverse portfolio includes about 60 sports and entertainment venues across the continent, from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to Montreal’s Bell Centre. It’s the same innovative outfit that put a Wolfgang Puck restaurant inside Walt Disney World in Florida and unveiled the first wood-burning oven in a sports arena at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The company does so many stadiums and arenas that even the CEO, Mr. Lansing, 48, can hardly remember whether to order Coke or Pepsi at a given venue. “You’ve got to remember that I’m in a lot of buildings,” he explained over a late lunch on Monday afternoon. “Typically, the beverage is a sponsorship with the building. So we don’t have much control. Same thing with beer.”
In 2010, the company plans to make its second foray into the coveted New York market, after signing on to handle concessions at the forthcoming Barclay Center, future home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, at developer Bruce Ratner’s controversial Atlantic Yards complex in Prospect Heights.