When Eric Robison hits it out of the ballpark night after night, it has nothing to do with connecting a bat and ball.
A home run for Robison is a ballpark full of fans leaving after a Sugar Land Skeeters game with full stomachs and smiles on their faces. Robison is the executive chef for Legends Hospitality at Constellation Field. It’s his job to make sure the thousands of fans getting food and beverages served from seven kitchens at the baseball park each have a tasty and tasteful experience.
“We’re always looking to exceed their expectations however we can,” he said.
Robison became the executive chef in the middle of last season. Since then he has been talking with fans and changing the lineup of offerings to find the sweet spot that scores with his customers. In the offseason he held a tasting event with season ticket holders to test new foods, and even now in mid-season he is still trying new things.
“At the end of the day, if we’re not giving fans what they want, they won’t be with us very long,” he said.
Constellation Field will always have the standard fare of hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, nachos and the like. The specialty items at the barbecue and Tex-Mex stands also have their regular foods but at times Robison will experiment with the menu. The same goes for the higher-end fare upstairs in the Insperity Club and suites.
“We’ll put something new in there every home stand,” he said.
Among his more popular additions to the menu are chicken wings with a variety of sauces, and a dish he calls “The Mound.” It’s a pile of wedge fries smothered with brisket, queso, cheddar cheese, and scallions.
“It was an instant hit,” he said.
Another change he made was to add an a la carte service for the suites that is open until the sixth inning. In the Insperity Club, food is served from the time the gates open one hour before game time and stays available for two hours. There are multiple options for guests to select from. Once the food is cleared away, the serving areas are re-set and at the start of the fifth inning the sundae bar is rolled out along with other desserts.
If there is one thing Robison understands, it’s the importance of pleasing people with pleasing food. A native of Las Vegas, he spent much of his career working for Marriot Hotels at places around the country, including Austin, Philadelphia, and Houston.
“My passion is cooking and being in the kitchen,” he said.
Like any good ballpark chef, he can often be found perusing the concourse, taking compliments, complaints, and suggestions from fans. He welcomes the feedback. He listens and responds and is very aware of special needs, especially with food allergies.
It was feedback from his family that caused him to leave hotels five years ago.
“Hotels, they just never stopped,” he said, noting his life/work balance was way off kilter.
He left the work he loved to try other things, but when the opportunity opened with Legends and the Skeeters, he couldn’t resist but to take a swing.
“I really like the atmosphere here. I like sports, I like the people,” he said.
More importantly, he has a better schedule and a better work/life balance. The job is very busy during the baseball season, but steady throughout the year.
“We do off-season catering and all types of events,” he said. “We do weddings, business meetings, seminars, proms … we basically do everything here. It’s a great facility,” he said.
On game days Robison often finds himself juggling responsibilities between the seven kitchens (four on the concourse, the Insperity Club, the picnic plaza, and the Bud Light Ice House) and numerous stand-alone carts for popcorn, ice cream, beer, and more.
“There are a thousand little pieces of the puzzle that have to come together during every game,” he said. “But everyone pitches in and everyone does an excellent job.”
In the end, whether the Skeeters win or lose, Robison knows the job was done well when people leave happy.
“Personally, I want them to have felt that the ballpark experience as a whole has exceeded their expectations,” he said. “From parking their car to walking through the gates … through the food and beverage experience and the baseball experience, I want it to be a positive one from beginning to end.”
That’s a belief that he said his team fully supports.
“I don’t think there’s a person in this building who doesn’t want the game experience to be anything less than the best,” he said.