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Longtime Del Mar Fairgrounds food and beverage provider to be sold to East Coast company

By Joe Tash

Premier Food Services, Inc., a San Diego-based company that has handled food and beverage operations at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for more than 20 years, has agreed to be purchased by an East Coast firm that manages a variety of public venues, from the Louisiana Superdome to the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Shareholders of Premier agreed to sell their stock to Philadelphia-based SMG Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Center Management, according to an April 3 letter sent to fairgrounds officials by the two companies.

Premier has held the food and beverage contract for the state-owned fairgrounds since 1990.  Last year, the company took in gross revenue of just under $20 million at the fairgrounds, and the fairgrounds received $5.67 million.  The current contract between Premier and the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the fairgrounds, runs through the end of 2015 with options to extend the agreement.

SMG CEO Wes Westley and Premier CEO George Karetas both addressed the 22nd DAA board at its meeting on Tuesday, April 8.  The officials said SMG will simply take over the contract and related labor agreements under the terms of the purchase.  The 22nd DAA must approve the transfer of the contract to SMG, which is slated to come before the board at its May meeting.

Among the concerns of fairgrounds officials, said General Manager Tim Fennell, is keeping intact the management and operational team that has worked well with the 22nd DAA over the years.

“We don’t want to see that change,” Fennell said.  “We’ve been assured that’s not going to happen.”

Fennell said he has been talking to other clients of SMG, and the company has received positive reviews.

“My overall gut feeling is I’m very comfortable,” Fennell said.

Premier handles food service during the annual San Diego County Fair and horse racing meet, when it generates the lion’s share of its annual revenue, about $15 million to $16 million, Fennell said.  The company also handles food and beverage service at numerous other events held at the fairgrounds each year.

Members of the 22nd DAA board requested a staff report and recommendation on the change of ownership, which the board will consider before voting on the issue in May.