The news arrived like a slam dunk for locavores who also have a taste for basketball. Michael Tuohy of midtown’s popular LowBrau and Block Butcher Bar will serve as executive chef and lead the food program at the Sacramento Kings’ new arena, which is scheduled to open in 2016. He’s joined by an advisory council with some of the area’s most prominent restaurateurs, including Randy Paragary and Randall Selland.
Tuohy, who arrived in Sacramento from Atlanta to open Grange in 2008, was tapped to bring a farm-to-fork ethos to the arena’s dining options. His role was announced as part of an Oct. 17 press conference that introduced the Kings’ partnership with Legends Hospitality. That Los Angeles-based company also oversees food and beverage programs at Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl and other high profile arenas.
Sports stadiums are increasingly moving beyond run-of-the-mill nachos and hot dogs to feed the fans. Yankee Stadium boasts an in-house butcher shop called Lobel’s of New York, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara features a gastropub overseen by Michael Mina. But Tuohy wants Sacramento’s new arena to be a model for showcasing local goods, with a promise that 90 percent of the arena’s concessions will hail from a 150-mile radius.
How does Tuohy plan to pull this off? Here’s what Tuohy told The Nosh Pit about bringing a farm-to-fork flavor to the Kings’ new arena:
When did you get tapped to be part of the downtown arena project?
It was about six months ago. Randy Paragary called me and threw it out there. He had a relationship with Legends, and they asked to put together a short list of restaurateurs and operators. I was on that list. As the conversation evolved, I was asked if I thought of being the chef. And no, I hadn’t. The Legends people started asking as well.
There was a competitive bidding process, and it came down to the 11th hour. Ultimately, the Kings chose Legends and we were ecstatic to hear that. I said, “You still want me to do this, right?” I was holding them to the local sourcing thing. It’s the chance of a lifetime. To think about bringing this task to fruition is exciting.
What’s the game plan for making local sourcing a key part of the operations? Are you looking for a hot dog maker within 150 miles?
There’s a lot that’s very preliminary, but in the initial proposal, I put together a list of sources that spanned 150 miles and what we can get within those boundaries. And that’s a lot. I’m very optimistic that we can deliver at a reasonable price point and be competitive with restaurants. Hopefully, we can do some unique things and put a fun twist on the food offerings at arenas. It’s also an amazing beverage program. There’s no shortage of great craft beer and wine (in the region), and we plan to bring that to the table.
You’ll be feeding crowds of up to 18,000. Is this doable using primarily local products?
I think it is. There’s a lot of product and a lot of excitement. I think there’s also a big opportunity for the venue to operate even beyond the basketball season. The rest of the year there’s trade shows, conventions, concerts. Hopefully we can have a seven-day-a-week business on the ground floor level.
People coming to games or events deserve great food. Here, we’re taking this to a whole new level using local sourcing.
What’s on your plate in terms of duties to build the arena’s food program?
Kitchen layout, equipment, specifications, operational design, menu development, operator liaisons with local restaurants and chefs, hiring. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of work to be done.
At what point will you leave Block and LowBrau to work on the arena full time?
That’s to be determined, but we’re talking about December. It’ll be soon. I’m helping to plan the transition. Those guys (Michael Hargis and Clay Nutting) are near and dear to my heart, and I want them to do well whether I’m here or not.
I’m hoping to have a LowBrau and Block at the arena. A mini version of LowBrau is completely built for a place like that. Block could really fit a need for the VIP program where people have a little more leg room.
When you were cooking in Atlanta or opening up Grange, did you ever think an arena was in your destiny?
(Laughs) You just don’t know. But I knew I came to Sacramento for a reason. One reason was I wanted to affect change with food. I didn’t know what that looked like, if it was cooking day to day in a restaurant or with a broader base on a bigger stage. My god, I think it’s a step in that direction. The chance to deliver a unique experience and know we’re feeding that many people is really exciting. It’s what gets me out of bed each day.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.