Though most of us would have to agree that every quality game day ends in food, I’m not sure most of us recognize that some of the most important culinary triumphs of game day lie in the most unassuming of places: the stadium. Perhaps because making it to the game is such a feat among students who prefer the tailgate to the the actual kick-off, we don’t often realize that by making it into the stadium not only are we there to watch football, we’re also there to feast. The stadium’s culinary facilities are run by Sodexo, a food service business that manages University athletics, and they are completely rebranding what it means to order any kind of food at a sporting event.
Growing up, I remember being dragged to Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, enticed by the idea of a hot dog slathered in mustard and salty french fries. Beer scented concrete and sticky aluminum countertops were the staples of the stadiums of my childhood nightmares. If I was lucky and behaved (instead of complaining about my distaste for sports) my mom would let me have a Carvel ice cream cone. Other than that, the food options were fairly limited. Being diagnosed with Celiac disease when I was 17 basically rid me of the ability to eat in sporting stadiums around the country.
Sodexo, on the other hand, is changing the Big House’s culinary game completely. Sodexo’s job through the University is to coordinate both non-profit, local eateries to set up shop on Ann Arbor autumn Saturday’s around the circumference of the Big House and additionally to run the Big House’s private concessions as well. Last year alone, as a collective the stadium made around $245,000 in profit on food. This year, they have their sights set higher.
On my culinary food tour around the stadium, I started at the Greek Eats stand. With options like chicken shawarma and loaded gyros, this stand alone revamps drunk munchies entirely. The chicken shawarma I tasted was loaded with thick garlic sauce that complimented the chicken well. Next to the Greek Eats stand you can find Ann Arbor’s own Bearclaw Coffee — a coffee cart stocked with a menu of seasonal lattes and homemade pastries. Just down from there the “Street Eats” stand specializes in a variety of tacos. Most popular on the menu is the “walking taco,” a taco bowl with layers of salty fritos topped with beans, cheese, salsa and beef. This dish is best accompanied by a fork and an Oberon to wash it all down. The variety of choices does not end there. Between each and every local stand are concession booths which now sell Impossible Burgers and have gluten free and vegan offerings as well. Ray’s Red Hots also makes an appearance on the perimeter of the stadium, providing your favorite East University bites during halftime or in between quarters.
But my favorite stand has to be the “Tot Spot,” a concession booth that specializes in loaded tater tots. I would recommend the “Tot-chos” or the “Classic Tots,” though all the possible topping combinations compliment the golden brown, crispy tater tots perfectly. Other standouts include the minority female run “Detroit Dough” edible cookie dough carts that line the stadium. Co-founder and CEO Autumn Kyles is a University alum who proudly serves their edible cookie dough to fans every game day. For other sweet tooth options, RJ’s is a loaded milkshake stand and a family-run business. The matriarch of the family, Yvette Wilkie, started making desserts after her son passed away to help combat her depression, and now you can find their ice cream sandwich and donut embellished cookies & cream milkshakes at every game day.
The efforts by Sodexo to make the Michigan football experience more than a game should not go unnoticed. Football is a story. You have your protagonists and antagonists, your climax and your narrative line — and you never know if the ending is going to be happy or sad. Both good games and bad games, home team and away team, everyone attending the Big House has one thing in common: We’re all hungry. The eats at the Big House can make any game, regardless of the score, a good one.