RA serves up brands at U.S. Open tennis tourney

RA serves up brands at U.S. Open tennis tourney

Paul King

A lot of top names were on display at the recently completed U.S. Open tennis championships in New York City.

Pete Sampras was there, of course, as was Martina Hingis. The Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport, Andre Agassi and Anna Kournikova were present as well.

But as far as Restaurant Associates was concerned, the top three names to remember were Krispy Kreme, Au Bon Pain and California Pizza Kitchen. That’s right; branded concepts have made it to one of tennis’ premier events.

Joe Polidoro, general manager for RA at the Open, said the company felt the venue was a good place to herald its relationships with Krispy Kreme and Au Bon Pain. RA is a franchisor of Krispy Kreme, and RA chief executive Nick Valenti sits, on the board of Au Bon Pain.

California Pizza Kitchen, Polidoro noted, was working with RA in a market test to see how popular its personal specialty pies might be at a sports venue.

The brands had their own locations along the line of blue-walled food stations, sandwiched in among outlets advertising Tex-Mex, Crepes, Pizza and Pasta, and Ice Cream. However, there were no special signs calling attention to the brands.

“All of the brands we’ve introduced have done quite well so far,” said Polidoro near the midpoint of the two-week tournament. “We’ve found that although the quality of our food has always been high, customers like the idea of buying a product whose name they recognize.”

CPK co-founder Larry Flax was on hand to oversee the test of his product, a prebaked pizza being produced by Kraft Foods. Although Flax was reluctant to talk specifics, he acknowledged that sales for the first two days of the tournament were much higher than expected.

As always, much was made in the New York newspapers about the high prices of food and beverage items at the Open; they were estimated to be about 5 percent higher than last year. For example, a box of four Krispy Kreme doughnuts cost $5, about 40 cents more per doughnut than you will be charged at the Krispy Kreme unit in Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station.

Even at that price, however, dozens of Krispy Kreme boxes littered the tables at the open-air food court across from Louis Armstrong Stadium during a late-afternoon walk-through.

“They’re good doughnuts, and they make a nice snack,” said Jerry Dale, whose family had come down from nearby Westchester County for the day. As for the prices, Dale said: “You come to expect high prices at these kinds of events. It’s not much different from what you pay at Yankee or Shea Stadium. I wouldn’t pay them every day, but once in a while it’s all right.”

Deli sandwiches from Au Bon Pain ran in the range of $7 to $8.50, and CPK specialty pies were $7.50. Other food items not thought of as typical sporting event fare included crepes, tostada salads and Buffalo chicken wings.

One woman, who didn’t want to be identified, said the prices bothered her.

“But they do offer a lot of different kinds of food,” she said. “I usually come here a couple of times each year, and if you can afford it, you don’t get bored with the food.”

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