Local restaurants react to spring training revival | Business

Major League Baseball hosted events during its 2021 season that created much-needed excitement around the sport.

Neutral-site games at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa, drew attention.

Additionally, the 2021 playoffs galvanized fans of the game and saw an Atlanta Braves franchise win its first World Series title since 1995.

After a shortened 2020 season that saw games played without fans due to COVID-19, this was exactly what the game needed.

What immediately followed was borderline disaster for the game: the league locked out its players. The two sides should agree on a new collective agreement before the games – regular season or spring training – are played.

This lockout ended a day short of reaching the century mark. After much back and forth between the two parties, owners and players, seemingly to death, agreed on a new CBA.

Although the season was clawed back and players started showing up for spring training camps immediately, the number of spring training games that would be played was essentially cut in half as both sides didn’t have could not reach an agreement quickly enough.

Many local restaurants near Cactus League facilities wondered what impact this year’s edition of Spring Training would have on their restaurants.

“Is it going to make a difference? Are people still coming? It’s a bit last minute to make changes,” said Ian Harwell, owner and operator of Ground Control.

He said Spring Training brings a lot of customers to his restaurant, making it the busiest time of year. He fears that there is not much time left for people to plan their outing.

Ground Control is just over four miles from Camelback Ranch, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. It roasts its own coffee beans, specializes in wood-fired pizza and offers many local beers on tap.

“We’re a small, local business,” Harwell said. “We manufacture everything in-house. Everything is artisanal, from our cocktails to our dishes, and we make our sauces and pasta every day. Everything we do, we manufacture in-house.

Harwell said his restaurant is noticeably busier during a normal spring training season. Although the number of customers for this year’s spring training is on the rise, Ground Control will be ready if it gets busy.

“We still have to follow that and plan for an influx of customers if they come,” said Stephanie, chief marketing officer and wife of Harwell.

Opa Life, another restaurant that attracts guests attending spring training games at Camelback Ranch, specializes in Greek cuisine. It operates just under 3 miles from the facility.

“We have people from Los Angeles who have been coming here for years to watch the (Los Angeles) Dodgers for spring training and can’t wait to come to Opa,” said Alan Krier, managing member and operator. “They know me, and they know the restaurant and the food. It was good to see them start coming back this week.

When games were called off by the league, Krier wasn’t exactly surprised. He said he had been watching the back and forth very closely and predicted that the two sides would not be able to agree in time for a full season of spring training to begin.

“I had already planned, in my head, not to have games about four or five months ago because I follow baseball very closely and saw where things were going,” Krier said. “I didn’t think they were going to be able to get away with it. I wasn’t totally shocked, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed.

Opa Life gets a substantial boost in patronage when spring training games roll around, so Krier was thrilled when a deal meant games would still be played, albeit fewer than usual. .

“It has a very strong impact,” he said. “I was really happy that it happened at the last second. It looked like it wasn’t going to happen at all, and all of a sudden Major League Baseball made a deal. We were really happy. That the makes it much more stable during some slower running hours.

According to Krier, the impact of the games relaunch was almost immediate. The restaurant was receiving business from Spring Training less than an hour after a deal was struck.

“There were already people in town when the games were canceled because they had already booked their holidays,” he said.

Camelback Ranch isn’t the only property with plenty of nearby dining options.

The Peoria Sports Complex, home to the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, is in an area that offers a surplus of nearby restaurants. The Angry Crab Shack is one of them; it is only 3 1/2 miles from the facility.

“We locked it down in Peoria,” general manager Tim Dernick said. “We know spring training every year is a great time to attract people and keep them coming back.”

Dernick admits that there are still a lot of unfinished business. He’s unsure if his restaurant will see the influx and numbers it normally gets from spring training due to the games’ initial cancellation.

“(The Games being cancelled) was disheartening,” he said. “We were definitely keeping an eye on it and hoping something would happen. Until a few weeks ago, the reality of the situation was that it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. »

With the way things are going right now, Dernick thinks his store will see a boost. He said Angry Crab Shack was ready for this. His restaurant is obviously busier during spring training, so he’s just grateful to get anything.

“I’m glad they have that and they’re giving us some of that this year,” he said. “I know the company itself takes this very seriously. We look forward to it, and we know that not only does it lead to increased sales and foot traffic, but we get different people from different walks of life who have never experienced the type of restaurant that we are.

“It really gives us the opportunity to show what we do by providing a level of service and hospitality that could spread by word of mouth, not just in Arizona but across the country, as we bring people from all over during spring training. .”

Dernick said that immediately after the games were reinstated, the company sent a company-wide email to all Angry Crab Shacks in the area outlining how important the next two weeks will be.

“We realize and recognize that there is a real opportunity to provide the best possible experience for these guests, because you never know who is coming,” he said.

Dernick thinks spring training is extremely important for restaurants in the Valley. Despite a shortened season, for Dernick to have games is huge for the local restaurant industry.

“The restaurant industry is kind of in a state of flux right now, and it’s been difficult to come out of a period when many restaurants were closing. But we recognize this as an opportunity to grow as a business and to broaden our base.

“Like any restaurant in the Valley, spring training plays a huge role,” Dernick said. “It’s a driving force in the community and self-reliance of the entire Phoenix metro area.”

Gladys T. Hensley