By Bill McCaughey
For the Fort Bend Star
On the Fourth of July, Greg Hernandez and Tait Guthrie opened their restaurant doors and invited in their guests.
By 6 p.m. many of the 8,606 guests were ready to eat. Hernandez, general manager of hospitality services, and Guthrie, executive chef, manage the food service for the Sugar Land Skeeters at Constellation Field, and the Fourth of July game was just another day for Fort Bend County’s largest restaurant.
A typical day for Hernandez and Guthrie starts at 8:30 a.m. as deliveries begin arriving and the evening’s activities are finalized.
“Most of our produce is provided by local growers and our hot dogs and meat come from local suppliers. The rest of our supplies are provided through our national contracts,” said Guthrie. “We are constantly looking for new food items and if a local company has excellent quality food and can deliver it to us on a regular and consistent basis, we will use them.”
Their day ends after the game is over and Guthrie puts the barbeque in a smoker to smoke overnight.
Constellation Field has six major food stations and the food at each station is prepared at the rear of each station. Each station has a front manager who is in charge of customer service and a rear manager in charge of the cooking.
The largest selling food items are chicken tenders and hot dogs.
“The traditional concession food items drive our business,” said Hernandez. “We do provide a variety of food items as we have a lot of season ticket holders who are at every game and we don’t want them to get bored with our food.”
“Our barbeque and Tex-Mex stations are our most popular food stations,” added Hernandez. “Attendance on weekends is typically higher than during the week so we prepare accordingly. Friday is our largest food day and Saturday’s are more snacks and beverages.”
Beer is an important menu item.
“We have at least four local craft beers on tap as they are popular with the fans,” said Hernandez.
The Skeeters have contracted with Legends Hospitality, LLC, which is owned by the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and several private equity firms, to manage the food service at Constellation Field. Legends’ first two clients were Yankee Stadium and AT&T Stadium and the client list includes Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Tempe Diablo Stadium spring training venue and several minor league teams, including Yankees affiliates in Tampa and Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Sovereign Bank Stadium in York, Pa.; Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pa.; Campbell’s Field in Camden, N.J.; and Constellation Field in Sugar Land.
Other players in this industry include Levy’s, Aramark, Spectrum and Delaware North.
Hernandez is the general manager for Legends at Constellation Field.
“I am responsible for everything on the concession side. I always wanted to be a chef but now I do everything but cook,” he said. “Most of my job is keeping my client and their fans happy. Every person who comes into Constellation Field is as important as the president of the Skeeters. We want every fan to have a great experience and that includes great food and cold beer.”
Hernandez is fully aware that a long wait at a concession stand can hurt the customer’s game experience, so he constantly monitors wait times.
“We are very cognizant of wait times. A 10-minute wait at the concession stand could be an inning or two, so we are really focused on speed of service. We don’t have a particular benchmark, but we watch it closely,” he said. “However, we don’t pre-cook our hot foods. We prefer to give our customer fresh high quality food so it does take a little longer than pre-cooked, pre-packaged items.”
Hernandez spent many years with Aramark Corporation at the George R. Brown Convention Center and at Minute Maid Park.
Guthrie attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., and is a Certified Executive Chef, a designation, which requires passing several tests and experience in several food management positions. He is in charge of the food preparation process, which includes ordering the food items, training the station cooks, and managing quality control. An important part of the process is ensuring the food stations have what they need so the food can be prepared and wait times are short.
“We insist on providing a high quality food product,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie worked for six years at Boston’s TD Garden, home of the Celtics and Bruins, in their fine dining restaurant before coming to Sugar Land.
Steve Castillo is the lead chef at the centerfield food station. He smokes the ribs and grills the 100 percent black angus foot-long hot dogs, both of which are only available at the centerfield station.
“I smoke the ribs with a combination of pecan and mesquite, and both the ribs and hot dogs are a big hit,” said Castillo. “I have a lot of regular customers who buy the ribs every night. Just last night, a customer bought five orders of ribs and took them back to the Insperity Club.”
The Insperity Club is the fine dining room at Constellation Field and it is open to the public. An Insperity Club ticket costs $55 and gives you access to the air-conditioned club, which offers a gourmet buffet with carving stations, salads, appetizers, entrees, special menus, and desserts, plus popcorn, peanuts, and non-alcoholic beverages. There is a cash bar. You also get a reserved seat in the seating section just outside of the club.
Chef Guthrie has a different combination of offerings every game and there are 70 home games.
“We have many regulars in the Insperity Club and I like to keep each day’s offerings unique,” he said. “One night the carving station may be roast beef and the next night it could be ham. Each night the pasta station has a different pasta offering.”
During and after the Skeeters’ season, Constellation Field hosts other events such as wedding receptions and business meetings. Legends offers a catering menu for those events.
“We have a standard catering menu but we can customize some offerings,” said Guthrie. “We have a lot of all-day business meetings with some batting practice during the middle of the day.”
A key issue for Hernandez is finding and keeping workers. “We have several job fairs before the season starts, and we have about 40% of last year’s workers return. When we identify good workers, we work hard to keep them,” said Hernandez.
Skeeters’ president Jay Miller is pleased with Legends.
“They do a great job for us,” said Miller. “I can tell they are doing a great job by listening to the fans. Most people only say something when the service or food is bad, but I hear from our fans all the time about how good the food is.
I just had two fans from Round Rock, which is where I was before coming to Sugar Land, tell me the food in the Insperity Club is awesome. They want to know why Round Rock can’t have food that great.”
After the fireworks are over on the Fourth of July, Chef Guthrie puts the pork into the smoker for the night and heads home. Tomorrow there will be another 4,000 or so customers expecting great food and quality service from Fort Bend County’s largest restaurant.