One of the true treasures of downtown Jacksonville is our beautiful baseball stadium, The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. This gorgeous 11,000 seat stadium is one of the nicest places to spend an evening in downtown. There’s nothing like getting off of work hopping in the car, and arriving a few minutes later to a gorgeous Jacksonville evening at the ballpark. There’s nothing like the sheer bliss of grabbing a ticket, walking through the gate, having that first sip of beer and sinking your teeth into that big juicy hot dog. Recently we had the chance to find out all about that hot dog and the other wonderful eats available at the ballpark. We headed down to the stadium to meet the man behind Jacksonville Suns Ball Park food, Jamie Davis- General Manager, ball park foods.
How long have you been general manager of Suns ball park food?
I actually opened the ball park in 2003 as the executive chef. In 2007 the previous GM of ball park food left on the eve of the inaugural Florida/Florida State game. We had 11,000 people in the ballpark and we got our butt pretty much handed to us. Even though we can put that many people in the ballpark, comfortably we can serve 6,000 or 7,000 without things getting out of control.
Note: Jamie assumed the role of General Manger of Ball park foods on the day of the Florida/FSU game and has been in that role ever since.
Does the number of people coming through the gate very pretty wildly?
One day we can have 500 people here in the next day we can have 7000. You just never know.
How do you prepare for that?
Well…..you have to go by history. Sometimes it’s a judgment call. And then sometimes it’s just hanging on by the seat of your pants. We always have plenty of product on hand and we have a good staff. Our core staff has been with us for quite a few years and once things get going it’s pretty much on autopilot.
I’ve noticed you guys seem to have charities that come in and run your concession stands. How does that work?
We have volunteer groups that come in and run the front part of our concession stands. A lot of ’em are softball teams, cheerleading groups, boy scout groups, and church groups. We ask them to show up with a certain number of people and commit to a certain number of games per year then depending on what the revenue is for the stand the [organization] gets paid accordingly. We guarantee the equivalent of minimum wage per person in sales for that particular stand are over a certain amount then they go to a commission basis.
Do you struggle to find groups to work the concession stands?
We don’t actually. Believe it or not we get about 10 calls per day asking about it all year round.
If one of our readers had a charitable group that would like to get involved with you when would they need to contact you?
We start our hiring process around February.
How do you guys decide what items you serve?
A lot of that comes from experience. The Owner, Peter Bragan, also has a lot of input on what we serve. We’ve tried a lot of things over the years. We’ve tried to go upscale.
One thing I’ve learned in this business and about Jacksonville, I’m a Jacksonville Native, I’ve been here most all my life, is the people here like basic food. They like basic ballpark food. That’s what we do here and we do it rather well. People like hot dogs, hamburgers, pretzels, pizza. We also do a good barbecue here as well. I actually do the barbecue here myself with a rub.
So what’s your biggest seller food wise?
Hot Dogs. I buy them by the pallet. We use an Oscar Mayer all beef hot dog. I order 3 pallets at a time and I get those 4 or 5 times a year.
How many dogs would you guess you average selling a game?
I’d guess about 4,000
Note: If by Jamie’s estimate the Suns average selling around 4,000 dogs per game with roughly 70 or so home games a season the Suns will likely sell a whopping 280,000 hot dogs per season! Duval, you ate over a quarter of a million hot dogs last season just at the ballpark. How’s that for baseball by the numbers?
By that estimate you sold one hot dog for every person in the stands on average. Wow. We can’t get over that number. 4,000 hot dogs!
The perfect example is this Monday. This Monday is reading day with Duval County schools. We’ll have 5,000 kids in here and each one will get a hot dog. We’ll get in here at 5am with myself and 16 other people and be pre-wrapping hot dogs so every kid can get a hot dog and a fruit juice when they come through the door.
How different is thirsty Thursday around here for you versus other games?
You know, it’s not what it used to be. I think the recession has a lot to do with it and also a lot of people are mimicking what we do around here with dollar beers on Thursdays. A lot of places are now doing ladies nights on Thursdays. A lot of these kids they don’t really come to watch the ball game they come to drink the beer and the special liquor drinks that we have. A lot of them you can go up to them and they hardly even know that a ball game is going on. We still get big crowds, though. We’ve had our first Thirsty Thursday and we had a lot more than I originally expected. It was almost equivalent to some of the crowds back in the heyday. Back in ’04-’06 we’d have 7,000 college kids running around here going crazy. Now it’s probably 4,000-5,000.
How critical is food to the overall profitability of the organization?
My guess is when the bean counters get done at the end of the year it’s probably about a 50/50 split.
So what’s fun about your job?
[grins ear to ear] I have the best job in the world. The Bragan family has treated me like family since the day I walked in the door. I’ve been in this business 25 years. I’ve worked for a lot of contract companies….the problem with them is I have to go through 25 people to get a yes or no. The good thing here is I can walk right up the hall right into the boss’ office, the man who owns it and makes all the executive decisions. I can get an answer from him right now and his door is always open. [The Bragans] are wonderful people. I could make better money going other places but I’m happy here with what I do.
What’s challenging about the job. What don’t you like?
During the season I don’t like the hours. On a typical game day I get in here at 7am and I don’t get out of here til 11pm. If we finish a honest and on a Monday we still have to work the rest of the week. We just finished our last home stand and we worked 20 days straight. Over half of those were those 16-17 hour days. It all averages out though. During the off season we don’t do quite as many events. I get several weeks paid vacation. The whole staff gets a couple weeks off at Christmas. We have a good time here though and we have fun with it.
How many people do you have working on ball park food on game day?
I think we have right at 100 to 125 on our normal hourly staff. As far as groups go we have another 75 or 100.
You mentioned you guys tried to do some upscale food?
We used to do a “Steak me out to the ball game” where people got a tenderloin and a baked potato and a ticket to the game for a certain price. Now with Seabest seafood on board with us we do an all you can eat fried shrimp dinner with french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw on Saturday night for $16. That’s about as upscale as we get.
So keep it simple and do it well is the idea right?
I learned back in way culinary school if you keep it simple it’s a lot easier to produce and here it’s what people like.
Jacksonville’s a pretty blue collar town.
Yeah. It’s a very blue collar town and it’s just the culture of Jacksonville. I grew up here. We like our barbecue, our hot dogs, our hamburgers. We like the beach. We’re every day working people. That’s what every day working people eat.
So, what’s your favorite thing to eat at the ball park?
Probably chicken wings. I love chicken wings!
Do you guys serve chicken wings?
We actually serve chicken wings on the third floor. Out on the concourse we don’t do it because there’s an issue with bones. If a bone falls down between a seat and is missed by the cleaning crew it could lead to vermin coming in.
I’ve been watching the suns my whole life, and been coming to this ballpark since it opened. Yet, I’ve never been up to the 3rd floor. I assume most people haven’t.
It’s probably the biggest kept secret of the ballpark. I wish more people would patronize it. We actually have a full service bar on the 3rd floor. It’s a beautiful place. The only bad thing about the Sundowner lounge (the name of the 3rd floor area) is it doesn’t face the field. It faces back to downtown Jacksonville. We do have big screen tv’s and you can watch the game on closed circuit tv but it doesn’t actually face the field. The misconception is you can’t go up to the 3rd floor unless you have an event going on there. That’s not true. Anyone who comes to the ballpark can go up the Sundowner lounge. You can go up there if it’s a really hot night and it’s air conditioned.
We’re always looking for great restaurants. What’s your favorite restaurant in town?
For a nice dinner I like the Capital Grille. As far as an out of the way place that nobody knows about that has the best food I’d say Chowder Ted’s. It’s one of the great little hole in the wall places. The place was a little fish camp when I was growing up out that way. Now Chowder Ted’s has been there almost 20 years.