With hot dogs, cold beer and an emerald green field sparkling under the June sunshine, the only thing missing at CHS Field is the team.
As the St. Paul Saints plan to start their 2020 season in Sioux Falls, S.D., their Lowertown home has been left vacant. But the gates aren’t staying locked. The stadium is now open for lunch.
The Pop-Up Cafe at CHS Field launched this week, serving stadium staples such as burgers and cheese curds, daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tables are set six feet apart on the Broadway Street concourse overlooking the field.
“It’s summertime. It’s outside. You should be at a ballpark,” said Joni Larson, who lives in the neighborhood and snacked on free popcorn Tuesday while waiting for a burger.
Dan Ponsolle sat nearby, watching a kids’ baseball camp take to the field. His family owns a sporting goods and apparel store in Vadnais Heights, and he had been missing the stadium scene.
“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s a better view than you get at most restaurants.”
The pop-up comes as many venues look for new avenues to attract customers amid the pandemic.
“Obviously, with the season on hold due to the COVID crisis, we began to take a look at what summer might look like with no games,” said Saints general manager Derek Sharrer. “We needed to plan for the worst-case scenario.”
With the Saints’ temporary relocation, that scenario is here. But Sharrer saw it as an opportunity. The field has always hosted events other than baseball, such as concerts, films and festivals. Even under coronavirus restrictions, Sharrer considered what else the space could be used for, safely. Patio dining was the first idea.
“It’s great to see the gates open, to see people sitting at tables laughing and smiling, as if they’re at a Saint’s game,” Sharrer said.
The current setup allows for 50 guests, by reservation only (saintsbaseball.com). With restrictions loosening in Minnesota, more space could eventually be repurposed to seat up to 250, and menus could be expanded.
CHS Field isn’t the only stadium getting innovative while its main attraction is on hold. The Minnesota Twins’ minor league affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in Florida, is even renting out its stadium on Airbnb.
In St. Paul, Sharrer imagines hosting dinner-and-a-movie nights on the field, using the craft beer area for a brewery-style experience, and turning parts of the concourse into bays for golfing.
Still, he’d rather see the team return for home games.
“They’re fun ideas we sort of hope we don’t have to use,” he said.