GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Griffins are back at Van Andel Arena with a new lineup, and so is executive chef Maurice Cordova.
“Going into this season, we haven’t had any events in a year and a half here, so being able to introduce a whole new world to the culinary part of what we do here is something awesome that we’re excited for, definitely,” said Cordova, who works for the arena’s food and beverage provider Savor.
Last month, Cordova and a team of chefs and food vendors filled the Intermission Bar and Grill to give suite holders and other community members their first taste of the new foods available at the arena starting Friday.
“We tried a lot of new items. We still have our traditional burgers and salads, but we wanted to have some fun with some stuff this year,” Cordova said.
SHARABLES THAT MAKE A STATEMENT
Those charmed by charcuterie have two new options: a board of fries and dips, and a large Bavarian pretzel from the Milwaukee Pretzel Company that’s filled with cheeses, meats and olives.
Fans with a sweet tooth can try out a new popcorn combination of caramel corn, sweet potato tots, chocolate drizzle and vanilla.
“It’s a weird-looking concept, but it’s phenomenal once you try it,” Cordova said.
ALTERNATIVES AMID SHORTAGES
Van Andel Arena is also feeling the supply chain crunch.
“Everybody in the industry throughout the whole food service has just been running into problems with getting product here, with trucks and nobody ready to drive and nobody working at some of the plants… so we’re trying to focus on stuff that is readily available and newer items,” said one of the chefs.
With the recent shortages, seafood is also having a renaissance moment. Arena menus include seafood loaded potato skins, a shrimp po’boy, fish sandwiches, seafood boils and even “Alaska Wild Wings.”
“We were talking about the chicken wing concept with the fish. These Alaskan wings are phenomenal. There’s something new,” Cordova said.
MORE GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN, VEGETARIAN OPTIONS
Visitors with other diet restrictions will also find more options, from vegetarian warm grain salad and labneh to vegan tenders to gluten-free brownies and gluten-free vegan parfaits.
“If you look on any menu that we have in the arena, there’ll be an option for just about anybody there,” Cordova said. “We focused on everybody’s diet… anybody that comes here can get a full experience.”
NEW CONCESSIONS CART
Fans at Van Andel Arena can still find plenty of new meat options. A new concessions cart will also debut this season, serving up sausages and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.
“It’s a great asset for upstairs,” Cordova said.
Between arena the arena’s catering, restaurant and concession menus, there’s also pork belly, short rib tacos, short rib stroganoff, meatball subs, Italian and Cuban paninis and jerk chicken.
“The Nashville hot scene has been pretty big as well. So (we’re) introducing a Nashville hot chicken sandwich,” Cordova added.
HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS CHANGING CONCESSIONS
The arena will also offer plastic-wrapped cheesecakes, brownies and other foods, based on feedback from catering customers.
“Just so there’s safety consciousness with everything going on, they wanted prepackaged desserts. So we introduced a lot of prepackaged desserts and items where people are safe and comfortable in catering as well,” Cordova explained.
Visitors can also skip the line and order select concession items online through Van Andel Arena’s free smartphone app.
All concession vendors now operate using a cashless system.
BRINGING BACK THE BASICS
The time fans spent away from events isn’t lost on the culinary team. Nostalgic foods like puppy chow, footlong corn dogs and elephant ears will join bacon shaped like hockey sticks on this year’s menu.
“We’ve tried to, this year, just get a lot of the basics back out and just get people’s ideas of fun things to come back in the arena,” Cordova said.
After spending the last 18 months working at other company properties across the country, Cordova says he’s “absolutely in awe of being back here.”
“Just seeing how slowly everybody is opening up and helping out there, it feels so comforting being back in my home arena, being able to be a part of all of this again. We’re excited for this season, definitely,” he said.