Peanuts! Popcorn! Portabellas?

When UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium reopens next week after a massive renovation, hungry football fans will notice another upgrade – the menu. Along with traditional fare, concession stands will offer items including vegetarian tempura rolls, hummus and pretzels and portabella mushroom sandwiches.

“In a facility once built for hot dogs, we’re making changes to provide a menu as diverse as our Cal community,” said Shawn LaPean, executive director of Cal Dining, which has won numerous local and national awards in recent years, particularly for sustainability and service.

Hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn will continue to be sold at the upgraded historic venue, but alongside veggie burgers on wheat buns, vegetarian chili and spicy salmon rolls.

Theresa Traulsen, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Concessionaires, said she’s unaware of any other university nationwide with such an eclectic array of football fare.

“You don’t find dim sum, rice bowls, sushi and hummus as concessions items at sporting events across the country,” she said. “UC Berkeley is taking it a step further and adding some very unique items for its diverse population.”

Traulsen currently is guiding Cal Dining’s plans to set up concessions operations at the stadium, which will reopen on Saturday, Sept. 1, when the Golden Bears play the University of Nevada. Cal Dining, part of UC Berkeley’s Housing and Dining Operations, was awarded a 15-year contract in May  for concessions and catering at all Cal Athletics facilities.

The stadium also will, for the first time, have upgraded kitchen facilities that allow concessionaires to cook food fresh on site.

“For long-time fans,” said LaPean, “this will be the first time they are able to enjoy a freshly grilled hamburger and fries at a Cal football game. The new equipment allows us to increase the concessions offerings and add value for our guests over time. We will be continually evolving the menu.”

Shawn LaPean

Shawn LaPean, executive director of Cal Dining (Molly McNamara/Cal Dining photo)

When fans leave their seats to order snacks, a new indoor broadcast system will allow them to watch and listen to the game without missing key plays. More than 125 screens with speakers are installed throughout the stadium; those in the concessions zone are mounted on the walls above where guests place their orders.

Recently named as one of FoodService Director magazine’s “Influential 20” for his work and commitment to the non-commercial food industry, LaPean said his most powerful game-day food memory is of being a young boy at his first Minnesota Twins baseball game.

“I loved that day, with my hot dog and ICEE,” he said. Still a fan of hot dogs, he’s adding a concession stand to the stadium’s student side for the popular, Berkeley-based Top Dog, as well as a place to buy Texas Boneheads BBQ, another East Bay favorite. And that’s for starters.

“I’m trying to do the best I can to surprise and delight fans,” said LaPean. “We eventually want to match or better AT&T Park,” home of the San Francisco Giants, where fans can buy anything from frybreads and Thai yellow curry chicken to strawberry shortcake and trail mix.

“AT&T is a good base of understanding what fans of pro ball want to eat, but whether the same applies for college games at UC Berkeley, we’ll find out,” said LaPean. “We’ll do market research – we believe in feedback – so people can tell us what they would most like to eat on game day here at Cal.”

In the meantime, Cal Dining, which currently serves 29,000 people daily across the Berkeley campus, has been busy working with Cal Athletics and Debra Nichols Design of San Francisco to create names for the stadium’s new concession stands. The names include The Fault Line – a reference to the Hayward Fault, which runs beneath the now seismically retrofitted stadium – along with The Big C, Golden Bear Grill and Lucky Bowl.

Cal Dining also looks forward to taking Cal Catering into the stadium’s new club rooms, including an eighth-level space with views from the hills all the way to San Francisco, that will be available for rental by the public on any day but game day.