Yankee Stadium has come a long way since VeggieHappy began advising them on plant-based menu options. In this feature, VH co-founder Johanna McCloy interviews Yankee Stadium’s General Manager of Concessions Chris Buffa about his experiences there, and about their current options.
Chris: First, Johanna, I have to tell you, I eat the Impossible Burger every day. You rubbed off on me with all this vegan and vegetarian stuff. I’m finally starting to get healthy. And I eat a lot of quinoa. Good stuff.
J: Very cool, Chris. It is good stuff. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about Yankee Stadium.
Well, the new Yankee Stadium was built in 2009 and this is our 11th season of Legends Hospitality running foodservice and premium and retail areas at the stadium. We have fans from all over the world here on a nightly basis.
The Yankees have tours throughout the day, and the tours are always packed throughout the season. When tourists come to New York on vacation and they want to do the tours of the best of the best, they’ll go to Times Square, and then they’ll go to Yankee Stadium. They buy tickets, stay for a game, and see what we have to offer.
And what was your path to becoming the General Manager of Concessions for Yankee Stadium?
I’m also a District Manager, so I oversee the food and beverage and retail at George M. Steinbrenner Field down in Tampa for spring training, as well.
I started working at the old stadium back in 2005. I was two years out of college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I worked at a bunch of restaurants in college, so my resume was filled with foodservice. I loved baseball, I loved the Yankees, and I loved food, so I decided to send my cover letter and resume to Centerplate, who ran the foodservice at Yankee Stadium at that time. I got a call the very next day. I thought, wow, this is great.
I started at the bottom as a Vending Manager. The next year, I was promoted to In-Seat Service Manager. Then, I interviewed with Legends for the new stadium, moved up to Concession Manager in 2009, and was promoted to General Manager in 2013. And here we are today.
And here we are today. You know, I was looking at my notes, and we started communicating back in 2012. It’s hard to believe. At that time, you had no veggie dogs. I think you had one veggie burger.
We had nothing. Until you and VeggieHappy came into my life. I’m serious! Until you reached out, we barely had anything. Our vegetarian list used to be the veggie sushi and we’d put popcorn or pretzels or whatever else we could squeeze in and say we were doing all this vegan and vegetarian fan-friendly stuff.
Well, that’s why VeggieHappy exists! Because more needed to happen. So many fans were complacent or bringing their own food or just making do with a snack, but not saying anything. The consumer doesn’t often speak up.
Yeah, we might hear “we want healthy options, we want healthy options” but what exactly is that option? And you actually introduced us to Field Roast. We started offering vegan hot dogs then. We were always doing a veggie burger, but it wasn’t vegan, so we also switched that to Field Roast’s vegan burger.
That’s right. And from there it went. And now look at you.
Yeah! We teamed up and partnered with Bareburger, and we’ve really elevated the whole vegan experience over here. It’s been great.
What’s the feedback been like? What are the sales like?
The sales have been great. Last year, we introduced the Beyond Sausage and it tastes just like a sausage. You can’t even tell that it’s plant-based. And we also have the Guadalupe Burger, which is also vegan. And this year we added the Changeup Burger, which is the Impossible 2.0 burger with caramelized onions, vegan cheese, and special sauce on a sprouted bun.
Oh and one thing to note! In order to ensure that the Changeup Burger wasn’t getting the wrong cheese, since there are two types of cheese that we serve on meat, every single burger that is served at that stand is served with the vegan cheese.
Oh really? That’s great.
You can’t even tell the difference. We haven’t had one person say a thing. It’s good cheese. It’s on the menu as American Cheese, but if you gave someone a piece of that and a piece of the other cheese, it’d be hard to tell the difference.
We also added the Avocado Bites, which are basically fried avocado slices with the habañero dipping sauce.
Very cool. Also, I read that the Yankees just signed on as the first North American sports team to join the U.N. Sports for Climate Action. That’s wonderful.
Yes. It is. I can tell you that the Yankees have a big initiative with sustainability. All of our packaging and cutlery is compostable, and our paper straws are now only offered at the counter instead of at the condiment carts, to limit wasted paper.
Well, both the UN Environment Programme and the UN Interpanel on Climate Change issued reports citing animal agriculture and meat as the #1 cause of climate change today, and encouraging people to eat plant-based foods. So you can include your plant-based menu offerings as part of your sustainability initiatives.
That’s great. We want to accommodate as many people as we can and offer as many vegetarian and vegan options as possible.
If any fans want to provide feedback, is there something you suggest they do?
If anyone has any questions about vegan or vegetarian concessions, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much for the time. Chris. Now I want to go over there and eat one of those delicious burgers.