Ivy Alexander nervously paced the office hallway with the name of her restaurant “Smoke in the Pit” written across her T-shirt in sparkly red letters.
As she walked and talked, she glanced at Michele Zoromski bent over a tray wielding a pastry bag of frosting to put flourishes on cookies and treats.
The two women were among hundreds vying for a chance to serve the estimated 100,000 visitors to Super Bowl events over 10 days and bring home a share of the projected $400 million economic impact coming to town. The recent event on the 31st floor of a downtown office building was the second of two “pitch days” where qualified minority, women, veteran and LGBT-certified businesses had five-minute appointments to show themselves off to panels of 3-4 judges.
Haley Fritz, the majority owner of O’Cheeze food truck, said, “We just want to be part of the Super Bowl. ... And we want people to have fun.”
She has been part of the NFL’s “Business Connect Diversity and Inclusion” program that, along with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, has spent the past few months recruiting and coaching smaller, minority-owned businesses to boost their chances of winning contracts to work during the event beginning next January.
The Super Bowl comes with a couple hundred parties and mega-events all in need of accoutrements from food, signs, and decorations to heaters, wiring and tents. The assumption of the program is that the majority-owned businesses, many of which are bigger and older, already have economic connections that help them get work.
Of some 930 minority businesses that went through the boot camp of coaching and workshops, about 400 will end up on a list of recommended businesses that comes with the promotional muscle from the National Football League and the Minnesota host committee. The lead-up to pitch day allowed businesses to get training and network even if they didn’t yet qualify for the program.
To qualify as a recommended Super Bowl minority vendor, a business had to have been in business for at least three consecutive years, be headquartered in Minnesota with good standing, and have a 51 percent ownership stake by a recognized minority, woman, LGBT person or veteran. Certification of the ownership status was required from qualified state or federal programs. Then businesses had to prove they knew how to handle crowds.
Alexander qualified as a veteran and a woman of color. When she and her son Dwight stepped into the pitch room earlier this month, she heard the ground rules from the panel chairwoman. “You’ve got one minute to set up, three minutes to make your pitch,” she was warned. “When you hear the buzzer, you’ve got one minute left. Then you’ve got one minute to clean up.”
How much can you handle?
Alexander began by handing out favorable media reviews of the family restaurant at 3733 Chicago Av. S. as Dwight plated smoky brisket, charred chicken wings, and the sides — small plastic containers of homemade barbecue sauce, coleslaw and banana cream pie.
“We’re natives of Little Rock, Arkansas, and we’ve managed to bring the South to the Midwest,” Alexander said.
The restaurateur told the panel that recipes for her food were handed down through generations and that her tiny restaurant is set to expand beyond window service. “It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but it’s our hole-in-the-wall,” Alexander said.
Zoromski, whose Northern Frost frosting and sweets-focused catering business pitched just before Alexander, handed out miniature wire whisks topped with puffs of marshmallow frosting and chocolate icing. Hot chocolate is also in her repertoire, she told the panel, “We think it would be the perfect warm pick-me-up for a Bold North event.”
All three women got the same questions from the panel: What’s the biggest crowd or event you’ve served? How much more can you handle?
Then the judges made notes about quality, capacity and presentation on standardized evaluation forms.
The process went on in half a dozen rooms with businesses pitching everything from NFL-themed rugs, special crockery and improbably elaborate football characters made of balloons. By early June, the Minnesota host committee and the NFL will publish a list of recommended minority vendors ready for Super Bowl-related events. There is no guarantee of business.
B.J. Harrison Waymer, who leads the program for the NFL, said that in the most recent Super Bowl, in Houston, vendors on the panel scored contracts from a couple of thousand dollars for printing to $38,000 for catering to more than $100,000 for laying wire.
The NFL and the Minneapolis crew led by Alex Tittle, vice president of corporate affairs, will become enthusiastic advocates for the businesses that get on the list. Waymer said, “We’re in constant conversations with our contractors,” she said.
Contractors for Super Bowl events from the gameday tailgating party to the players’ lounge and media parties can contact Waymer and Tittle. “They’ll call and say, ‘We need X, Y and Z.’ Then Alex will say, ‘We’ve got the perfect person for you,’ ” Waymer said. “Every time we make a match, it is a solid match.”
The ultimate hope is the smaller and minority-owned businesses connect with each other, building the sorts of strong community networks that established companies already have.
“Our goal is to tee them up for business once we leave Minnesota,” Waymer said.