With an overhaul of food and beverage operations at Miller Park in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers and Delaware North Sportservice went full Sconnie with a slate of new offerings and concourse layouts. For these upgrades, we’re awarding Miller Park the 2017 Ballpark Digest Award for Best New Concessions Experience.
“The food experience at Miller Park tended to be pretty generic in the past, and the concourse concessions layout made for some troublesome bottlenecks,” said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. “The renovated Miller Park concessions not only added new food and beverage items with a Wisconsin focus, they also dramatically improved the traffic flow throughout the ballpark.”
For 2017, the Brewers and Delaware North Sportservice embarked on a $20-million overhaul of Miller Park food and beverage concessions, upping the local offerings while tearing out existing concession stands and installing new ones—the biggest changes to Miller Park since it opened in 2001. The new Field Level First Base Ward and Third Base Ward spaces were remodeled and the concessions upgraded. In many ways, it was a simplified approach to Miller Park concessions, with many portable stands removed. The large concession stands on the Field Level (the main 360-degree concourse level) that formerly blocked views of the game were replaced by beverage stands with beer (including a wide selection of microbrews), mixed drinks and cocktails. Specialty stands featuring AJ Bombers fresh burgers, Klement’s sausages and brats, cheese curds, hot chips topped with bratwurst, built-to-order street tacos, frozen custard, Smoke Shack BBQ and more are now located to the side of the concourses, allowing for a better traffic flow on the Field Level. Other changes, including the installation of new dedicated stands, were also made throughout the ballpark.
“We took a lot of guest feedback and listened to what the fans wanted,” says Executive Chef Seth VanderLaan. “In the end, those fans told us they wanted more local foods and restaurant-quality food.”
That meant more partnerships with local vendors: AJ Bombers fresh burgers, all-new/all-natural sausages prepared for Miller Park by Klements, Zaffiro’s pizza, freshly prepared frozen custard, a wider selection of Wisco microbrews (including regional favorites from Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee and Chippewa Falls at a Loge Level stand) and, of course, the quintessential local cocktail: a Korbel Brandy Old Fashioned, served sweet, of course. Yes, you can still get your basic hot dog, Secret Stadium Sauce and Miller High Life at the ballpark, but now you purchase an all-natural Klements sausage and a Badger Club Amber or a Riverwest Stein.
That meant more prep work onsite. For instance, the partnership with Smoke Shack and parent Hospitality Democracy led to in-house smoking and the use of all-natural, antibiotic-free pork and beef. In all, concessions staff smoked 1,000 pounds of pork and beef for game days. Similarly, with all the burgers prepared fresh, even more prep work was added for 2017.
This award represents a change for how we’ve covered food in the annual Ballpark Digest awards. In the past, we’ve recognized individual food items, and we’ll continue to recognize individual dishes as a separate category. But with food such an important part of the professional baseball experience these days, it makes sense to recognize overall programs. In the case of Miller Park and executive chef VanderLaan, the food program includes the fan-facing spaces as well as player meals, prepared in consultation with the team nutritionist (“our goal is better performance for players, so we fuel their bodies—and, obviously, the meals need to taste good,” VanderLaan says). For the Brewers front office and Delaware North Sportservice, the goal to elevate the total fan experience.
“We are honored to receive this award for our new food and beverage experience at Miller Park,” said Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger. “We view the Miller Park experience as much more than a baseball game, and fan satisfaction is our top priority. With Delaware North and many other partners’ support, this project was a very high priority for stakeholders. It proved to be the largest private financial investment since Miller Park opened, and we couldn’t be happier with the results.”
“It’s quite an honor to share this award with the Milwaukee Brewers,” said Carlos Bernal, president of Delaware North Sportservice. “We are fortunate to be partners with a team that prioritizes their fan experience. Chef Seth, our general manager Ken Gaber and their crew collaborated with the Brewers to bring a progressive, culinary concession vision to life at Miller Park.”
According to VanderLaan, Brewers fans can expect more changes for 2018. The Brewers and Delaware North Sportservice hit the four major Wisconsin food groups in 2017—beer, cheese curds, sausage and frozen custard—but there are potentially a few more unique offerings on tap. “We have some things in the works with local ties,” he said.
“Yeah, we’re suckers for an AJ Bombers burger or a well-prepared Old Fashioned,” Reichard added. “But the changes at Miller Park transcended the introduction of a new food item or two, as every team does that in the offseason. They elevated the fan experience in several ways, and that effort merits recognition.”
2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): Great Dane Duck Blind
Executive of the Year: Ryan Keur
Best New Logo/Branding: Down East Wood Ducks
Best Ballpark Renovation (MiLB): Fluor Field, Greenville Drive
Broadcasters: Howard Kellman and Mick Gillespie
Ballpark of the Year: SunTrust Park, Atlanta Braves