LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer’s note: Arenas are just not for sports anymore. They’re entertainment centers where not only hard-core sports and music fans follow their favorite teams and performers, more casual visitors come to experience the arena spectacle.
That experience includes food — especially high-end nibbles. T-Mobile Arena’s food concessionaire is Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which has carved out an identity in the arena and stadium market for its premium food selections in addition to purveying old-time items such as burgers, hot dogs, pretzels, and popcorn.
LVSportsBiz.com caught up with T-Mobile Arena’s executive chef, Garry DeLucia of Levy Restaurants, for a behind-the-scenes look at the arena’s food operations and the man who runs the food show. I met DeLucia several hours before Friday’s Hall and Oates concert.
Here’s my Top 10 cool things I learned about DeLucia and the Levy operations at T-Mobile Arena.
1. DeLucia likes to keep T-shirts from some of his favorite arena events on his office wall. There’s the April 6, 2016 arena grand-opening shirt and others such as Iron Maiden. DeLucia is a veteran Las Vegas executive chief who traces his resume back to the former Lady Luck Hotel (now the Downtown Grand). He also opened the Luxor in 1993 and worked for seven years there until he worked at Hard Rock for six years. “I wanted to be part of this. This is history,” DeLucia said of T-Mobile Arena.
2. DeLucia is no stranger to sports. He was the executive chef at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before coming to T-Mobile Arena. DeLucia does not have a formal culinary academy experience; that is, he learned his craft in the kitchens of Las Vegas and eagerly accepted the executive chef job at the $375 million arena behind New York-New York on the Strip. “The opportunity is that we would be doing food that nobody does for an arena.”
3. DeLucia said opening the arena’s food operations from scratch was a challenge because he recalled the operation got clearance on March 20, 2016 before the April 6, 2016 official arena opening. “It was hectic. I lost a lot of weight and I had less gray hair,” he quipped. He mentioned at least $1 million worth of new kitchen and cooking equipment was spent to launch the food operations in 2016.
4. Executives of all types keep their prized possessions in their office cabinet file drawers and DeLucia the executive chef is no exception. A staffer walked into his office and DeLucia opened a cabinet file drawer and reached for two carving knives to give her. “After you lose 20 of these you better start keeping an eye on them,” DeLucia cracked to a writer.
5. DeLucia said he has a staff of 40 at the arena and estimates there are another 200 servers and bussers working events. With Las Vegas emerging as a foodie town with its celebrity chefs and independent restaurant entrepreneurs, DeLucia mentioned he has no shortage of talented applicants when there is an opening. “We get good cooks here,” DeLucia said.
6. The culinary goal is to deliver a “wow” factor at the arena, and DeLucia said Levy shines with its suite and catering services. Small bites are in at the suites, he said. “Guests want to have the freedom to move around. The prime rib sandwiches are cut into bites for the suites. They don’t want to get a mess and they don’t want a big wet thing splashing on their face,” he said. Top-shelf dishes include beef tenderloin crostini with goat cheese and seafood towers with jumbo shrimp and crab legs.
7. Chefs are slicing meats in the gastro pub, with the $13 prime rib sandwich and the $15 charcuterie plate of imported meats and cheeses as hot sellers. Another tasty high-end dish is the $15 ahi tuna poke, which includes avocado, papaya, fried noodles topped by dark green seaweed salad. There’s also a $29.95 buffet on the suite level and a dessert cart that features everything from a rainbow cake to warm cookies. There’s even a drawer with small bottles of milk to pair with those cookies.
8. Like any any head coach, DeLucia has to make adjustments in his game plan. He mentioned the Italian sausages and the barbecue have not gone as well as first thought. And there’s talk of bringing in a “local outfit for barbecue,” DeLucia said.
9. The NHL Vegas Golden Knights are poised to launch its inaugural season in less than 100 days, so DeLucia is working on a plan for those hungry and thirsty hockey fans. He’s planning a souvenir beer mug and a pretzel designed in the shape of a knight’s sword complete with a handle. Plus, he’s working on a Viking-like horn filled with popcorn for Golden Knights games. Stay tuned for the arena’s hockey feast. He noted Levy Restaurants also works at arenas that host NHL teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues.
10. DeLucia’s team of cooks, chefs and bakers has gained a top-notch reputation, and he noted other venue chefs have come to T-Mobile to scout out the best practices. And DeLucia said when he’s hungry, he’s been known to seek out the arena’s fresh beef hamburgers with melted white American cheese on an artisan bun.