Julie Margolin has seen a thing or two in the venue marketplace. Having spent most of her career traversing back and forth between New York and LA, she's accumulated a wealth of knowledge in the foodservice segment of our industry – both third-party and in-house operations.
Now at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, scheduled to open in November 2019, she is putting it all together, pulling up a seat to the design table, and bringing a first-class food and beverage experience to a unique set of sports and entertainment fans in one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, all in her brand-new cowboy boots.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Can you illustrate for us the food and beverage system that you have here at Dickies Arena? And why are you confident that it’s going to meet the demands of the building?
If you jump into food and beverage by the numbers, we have 24 permanent concessions locations. We have four permanent bars. There are roughly 100 to 125 points of sale when you add in the element of portable carts that we are creating.
One of the most gorgeous design features of this venue is the plaza that exists off of our east entrance. We are working with the liquor board in the state of Texas to allow us to have beverages transported in and out of the building onto that eastside plaza. It allows us to create a destination for our fans, both before and after events.
“We are a non-traditional arena. Our guests that are seated in those rodeo boxes are some of our most high-profile, most passionate fans.”
– Julie Margolin, Dickies Arena
We have some beautiful fleets of portable carts that we’re working on to be able to enhance that experience for any given event. That design will allow our points of sale to increase to that 125-130 range, depending on how many we choose to place there.
We also have vending capabilities within the building. The building has been designed with four dedicated vending pantries. Coming from other buildings, a lot of times vending became an afterthought. When storage becomes a premium, and you need to rethink what that space is used for, the vending operation is stifled. You need that base of operations for that element to be successful.
In this building, we have those four dedicated pantries that allow us to create that vending experience to enhance the concessions platform. We also have an event level concession stand, which is not very common. One of the reasons for that is our rodeo box design.
We are a non-traditional arena. Our guests that are seated in those rodeo boxes are some of our most high-profile, most passionate fans, so we want to make sure we can get that food and beverage element to them. That event level concession stand has been built to allow access for those guests, and also for concert goers or floor seat ticket holders, to get to an experience without having to get into another area in the building.
How can you ensure a variety of menu offerings, quality menu offerings, and speed of service?
The facility design itself gives us the ability to get a variety and increased level of food and beverage offerings to all of our guests. The concession stands on the event level, the main level, and the gallery level have extensive cooking equipment in them. I have hoods in about 75% of the stands in the arena. We have the ability for grills and fryers and ovens inside of those spaces, which gives us the ability to get creative and increase not just the variety, but also the quality of what we’re offering.
There’s a very large commissary kitchen that also has a dedicated pastry kitchen, so we can take elements of the desserts, the breads, and some of those items that sometimes are forced to be brought in or bought out because you don’t always have the facility to support them. We’ve actually had that considered in the design here.
Similar things in the design that make our lives great are bulk CO2 and ice production. We have a dedicated smoker. We have a popcorn room as part of the commissary and the event level structural design. And that will support those concessions operations, but it even flows into the premium spaces.
And what can you tell us about those premium spaces?
We are designed with two clubs. One of them is your traditional white-tablecloth, fine-dining restaurant that has a gorgeous bar with a large viewing space looking out into the arena bowl. For our rodeo performances and for other sporting events, that will be one of the most coveted spaces for our premium guests.
While a lot of arenas are moving away from that traditional dining experience or a full restaurant, that’s not where we need to move. The city of Fort Worth and its community is looking for that high-end dining experience in conjunction with going to events like those that we’ll host at the arena. So the idea of building a brand-new arena and continuing to have that full-service restaurant model was important because it fits with this community and the city that’s entrusted us to create this space for them. There are anywhere from 240 to 340 seats in that space, depending on the configuration.
We will look to ramp up during our rodeo performances, where we add in those rodeo box seats, which is one of those incredible premium elements that will be unique to Dickies Arena. Rodeo box seats will have in-seat service or rodeo-box service. And the truth of the matter is it’s not going to be just your typical in-seat opportunities.
We need high-end offerings that are not just considered for great quality, value, and variety, but we have to consider the dirt and the horses and the fact that you are feet from what’s going on there. That element coming into your food and beverage experience could be a reality. So we need to consider the offerings, the menu, the service components for both safety and viewing access. All of those things are going into our consideration for that element of our experience.
Did you have a seat at the design table to help ensure all of this infrastructure was included?
One of the things that was attractive about this project to me was the passion for it by the city, the players involved, and the senior leadership group. I also had the chance to come in while we’re still in this early phase of construction and make suggestions. I was able to come to the table seven months ago, which made us about 18 months away from when we were going to open the building.
A lot of the infrastructure was poured. But the group that’s gotten together to build this arena was passionate enough about it being perfect to the extent we could make it. They said, yeah, let’s take the time. Let’s figure out the dollars. Let’s spend those dollars now to ensure the experience is everything it can be when we open.
Read Part One of our Member Highlight with Julie Margolin.
Watch our entire Dickies Arena video series, featuring a tour of the preview center and arena construction next door, all premium seat details, and food and beverage tips and insights from ALSD Member Julie Margolin.