Today is media day at Citi Field, where the Mets, Danny Meyer, and Aramark will unveil the whole of the new stadium’s food offerings in the flesh. When it’s over, we’ll bring you glorious photos and the full reveal, of course — although the only real question is, are there Shack burgers on media day? In the meantime, here’s a briefing from Union Square Hospitality Group president David Swinghamer, who has been running USHG’s development and installation at Citi Field.
How’d the dress rehearsal over the weekend go? It was just brilliant on the Mets’ part to put a game out there like this for the public to get a preview. It forced deadlines, so the necessary things in the stadium got done. While not everything was open, we did open Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, El Verano Taqueria, and Box Frites.
Citi Field, especially as compared to the new Yankee Stadium, is getting fantastic buzz. How are you feeling about the project so close to its completion? This has been well over a year[long] project for us, just in creating those [Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, El Verano Taqueria, and Box Frites], plus the DeltaSky360 club behind home plate. We’ve been working with the Mets and Aramark for quite a while to get to this point. We really want to do for stadium dining what we did for museum dining at MoMA: Why can’t you eat great food and have a hospitable experience in the stadium? Food and basebal go together, so we were really looking forward to taking on the challenge of doing great ballpark food at Citi Field.
And what’s changed, since you started working a year ago? It started and we just kept adding [to it] as we talked with the Mets about what their vision was for it. They wanted a great fan experience on all levels — [from] sight lines, the seats, and a more intimate ballpark (with just 42,000 seats) to the food, to the hospitality. The whole experience. So we started with Shake Shack and evolved quickly to Blue Smoke — and these are premium concessions, by the way, they’re not restaurants, but they are premium concessions — and to then free up another building in center field where we created the brand-new concepts of El Verano Taqueria and Box Frites. From Danny Meyer to myself to many others in the company, we’re huge baseball fans — we just asked ourselves, What do we really want to eat when we’re at a game?
And is everything done? Not entirely. They’re still being completed. All the signage is not up yet. We were open [for the weekend exhibition game] with one or two menu items. All of that is being completed in the hopes that for Friday [the Mets face the Red Sox in an exhibition game] most of it will be done. I know the El Verano sign will not be up. And the DeltaSky club, 26,000 square feet behind home plate, where we’ve created all kinds of interesting things — from a sit-down restaurant to a marketplace to a beer and wine bar — that is still being worked on. It’s going to have to open up for sure by Opening Day, April 13.
Will the concepts evolve? Yes, they’re going to evolve. That’s the way we run our restaurants. You’ll see new menu items throughout the course of the year. You’ll see seasonal items added. And that’ll be everywhere from the taqueria to the restaurant in the Delta club. We’re going to start phasing in in-seat service to that Delta seating area, which is between first and third bases — the 1,600 best seats in the stadium. You’ll be able to get a Shack burger or a Blue Smoke pulled-pork sandwich delivered right to your seat.
You’re making it very easy to root for the Mets. That’s the intent.
Is there a chance you’ll bring some of this from Citi to the city? New York could always use another good taqueria. We’ll see. Whenever we create something, we do it in the context of its environment. And we don’t think about [expansion] when we create something new. Not, Oh, is this is going to sweep the country? That’s a sure way that you’ll find it won’t sweep the country. But we’re very high on El Verano and Box Frites and think it’s the kind of food that people really like and we can have some fun doing it. If the lines are long at El Verano and Box Frities, there’s a good chance you’ll see those somewhere else in the near future.
Any thoughts on Yankee Stadium? When it comes to food, it’ll be a fun, healthy rivalry. It can only be good for Mets and Yankees fans to have better food offerings in the stadiums. All I can say is that I don’t know how you feel about having a Shack burger in Citi Field, but I gotta think it’s going to feel pretty good.