Oak View Group has partnered with NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal, country singer Trisha Yearwood and successful restauranteur Giada De Laurentiis to bring unique culinary items to the company’s venues.
Announced at the Pollstar Live! Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the new venture sees the celebrity trio leading OVG Hospitality’s new Hospitality Advisory Council, bringing offerings customized to each city’s tastes.
“Every city is different,” Yearwood told Pollstar/VenuesNow, which OVG owns. “What people love in Austin, Texas, might be different from what somebody else in Vegas likes. The challenge for us is going to be to figure out what works where. And the only way to do that is to have a lot of arsenal.”
The first launch of menus features Shaq’s Big Chicken Sandwiches, which is already available at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, UBS Arena in New York and Baltimore’s CFG Arena. Giada’s menu includes pizza, which will be available at Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs and UBS Arena in Belmont Park, New York. Yearwood’s own southern comfort food of mac & cheese can be found at Austin’s Moody Center. More custom items are in the works.
Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of Oak View Group, first had the idea to begin a venture of this nature 20 years ago. His aim was to enhance the experience of those stepping through venues with more than the typical hotdogs, burgers and fries typically found at concerts and sporting events, and to present attendees with a full-blown culinary experience.
“Trisha, Shaq and Giada are successful restauranteurs, globally revered personalities, and unabashedly authentic in their approach to memorable cuisine,” Leiweke said. “They know great food and we’re excited to infuse a dose of creativity, fun and personality – that ‘wow factor’ – into the food and beverage we serve at our venues across the globe.”
After having spent so much of their lives in arenas, O’Neal and Yearwood wanted to enjoy a variety of meals while on site. O’Neal had years of fries and hotdogs while at games, and Yearwood would grab an early dinner and snack during showtime. With a lack of proper meals, the whole team felt an important part of the experience of going to shows was missing.
“I wanted to provide more options other than just hot dogs and cheeseburgers,” O’Neal says. And he was far from the only one desperate to bring more food to the table.
De Laurentiis had spoken with Leiweke for years about the possibility of bringing a full-fledged culinary experience to venues. Attendees spend hours at venues, long enough for concertgoers and sports fans to crave a full meal.
“I’ve done food for over 20 years now, and I used to say to Tim when we’d meet at OVG all the time, ‘Why can’t we get something that looks and tastes a lot better as part of the experience when we come to a live show?’” De Laurentis said. “Whether it’s a live show or a sports game, it’s basically four hours out of our day and the food is always an afterthought. Yet it’s a really valuable experience.”
Yearwood’s mac & cheese recipe comes from her mother. O’Neal’s chicken sandwich comes from his Big Chicken restaurants across the United States. De Laurentiis is bringing in shortbread, fettuccine, bacon-wrapped dates and more.
“We want to think about how we can create the food experiences differently,” Ken Gaber, president of OVG Hospitality, said. “That’s one thing OVG has been great at, to look at different ways to project and propel the awareness of food with three great people to partner with. We’re gonna call it the family table meetings because great things happen at the family table. We’re gonna grow the company based on that.”