Santa Clara set to pick new food and drink operator for convention center
The Santa Clara Convention Center, located at 5001 Great America Parkway. Image credit: Janice Bitters

Santa Clara’s convention center has seen a year of change, and there’s more to come.

City leaders in March opted to shake up management of the property following a critical report alleging mismanagement of the more than 300,000-square-foot convention center by the former Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce. Spectra Venue Management was awarded the management contract that month.

The newest part of the shakeup is that the center’s longtime food and beverage operator, Aramark, is out earlier than expected and a new company, Levy Premium Foodservice, is the front-runner to become the new food and drink provider in the new year, according to city officials, who issued a notice of award for the contract last month.

Levy’s vision for the branding on a new eatery for the Santa Clara Convention Center. Image courtesy Santa Clara public documents

Chicago-based Levy’s proposal and a follow up letter, obtained by San José Spotlight, outlines a “reimagined” Santa Clara Convention Center by using a new brand called Valley & Vine, envisioning a new eatery for the center called Cypress Seed Cafe and creating a sustainable garden on the center’s terrace. The proposal states the company expects to generate more than $3.5 million in profits annually.

Levy said it will invest a total of $5.75 million into the convention center, more than half of which would be used to get its operations up and running, including uniforms, technology, flatware and branding. The remaining funds would be used for “innovation and transformation capital” over time.

The company also outlines a vision for a “Terra Spark Kitchen,” which would provide training for aspiring culinary and hospitality workers via 10-week semesters.

“We will commit to being the resource for area residents interested in pursuing a hospitality career,” the documents state. “Instructional staff will include subject matter experts, operations professionals and chefs, all led by a designated leader of the Terra Spark Kitchen who will be part mentor and part director to oversee the program’s administration in its entirety.”

The shift in food and beverage operators comes after Santa Clara officials reworked and transitioned several contracts at the convention center this year due to the management shakeup. But Santa Clara officials said they and Aramark couldn’t come to an agreement about the terms of a new contract.

City officials posted a request for proposals for a new food and beverage operator to start operations in the new year on May 13. Aramark, which had been handling food and drink at the convention center since 2008, told city officials on May 20 it would end its work at the convention center by July 26, though its contract extended to 2022, according to city documents.

“We’re proud of our track-record of elevating the guest experience at Santa Clara Convention Center with innovative catering and retail food programs,” David Freireich, a spokesperson for Aramark, told San José Spotlight. “While this was a difficult business decision, we’ve been working with the city and successor company on an orderly transition and wish the Convention Center continued success.”

Ovations Food Services, a company associated with Spectra, is handling food and beverage until elected officials vote on a more long-term operator.

The City Council is expected to vote on the contract on Sept. 24, according to the timeline in the bid documents.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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