Del Mar Fairgrounds board approves sale of local food and beverage contractor

By Joe Tash

Directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned Del Mar fairgrounds, gave their blessing Tuesday, May 13, to a deal in which a Pennsylvania-based company will buy a locally-owned business that has provided food and beverage service at the fairgrounds since 1990.

The 22nd DAA board had to approve the deal because Premier Food Services Inc. —which will be purchased by SMG Corp. — has an exclusive contract as the fairgrounds food and beverage provider.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the deal with two conditions — that SMG not change food and beverage management personnel without district approval; and that the company increase its performance bond to $1 million for the life of the contract. Fairgrounds general manger Tim Fennell had recommended approval of the stock purchase.

Premier, soon to be SMG, provides food and beverage service at fairground events throughout the year, including the San Diego County Fair and the annual horse racing season, which will expand this year to a fall meet as well as the traditional summer meet.

SMG manages stadiums, convention centers, arenas and other facilities across the U.S. and abroad, including the Louisiana Superdome, the Long Beach Convention Center and Moscone Center in San Francisco.

The 22nd DAA’s current food and beverage contract runs through the end of 2015, and the agreement includes two three-year renewal options. Last year, Premier generated revenue of $19.9 million at the fairgrounds, and a return of $5.6 million for the fairgrounds.

Director David Watson said the board will be keeping a close eye on the new company’s performance in the coming months.

“You have 18 months to prove yourselves,” he said, before the board considers an extension of the contract.

“We see this as an opportunity to earn your business each day,” said Shaun Beard, senior vice president with Savor Food and Beverage Services, a subsidiary of SMG.

Mark Anderson, Premier’s onsite manager since 1990, will retain his position under the new ownership. SMG will also retain Premier’s workforce.

Among the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was Efaon Cobb, in-house counsel with Local 30 of the San Diego County Hotel and Food Service Workers’ Union, which represents food service workers at the fairgrounds. Cobb supported the ownership change.

No member of the public spoke against the purchase.

Board members and fairgrounds officials said Premier has provided quality service to the fairgrounds over the past two-plus decades.

“It’s been a great marriage to say the least,” said director Lisa Barkett.