Local Fare: Vivint Smart Home Arena’s Upgrade Brings in Unique Dining Options

Upgrading Vivint Smart Home Arena went beyond installing thousands of new cushioned seats and rooftop solar panels. The $125 million renovation undertaken during the summer of 2017 also opened the door for fans to enjoy an enhanced dining experience.

A completely redesigned main concourse highlights the arena renovations. It features a 12,000-square-foot atrium with a 76-foot long video screen, a porch that gives fans a full view of the lower bowl and a new Toyota Club that wraps around two-thirds of the arena and offers gathering space for 1,700 guests.

Mingled with these new features are more than 30 restaurants and food vendors. Vivint Smart Home Arena put an unusual twist on these culinary offerings by partnering with local Utah restaurants to give sports fans and concert attendees a wider menu to select from.

Four restaurants occupy each corner of the main concourse: R&R Barbecue, Maxwell’s, El Chubasco and Cubby’s. Other popular local dining options such as Hires Big H, J Dawgs, Cup Bop and Zao Asian can also be found on the concourse.

“You can get some of the best restaurants in town at the arena now,” says Jim Olsen, Vivint Smart Home Arena president.

Enlarging the menu

Creating a quality dining experience was always a critical ingredient in the recipe for Vivint Smart Home Arena renovations. It started with figuring out which local restaurants would be the best fit for the tastes of arena guests.

Nailing down what would appeal to a majority involved liberal doses of time and research. Vivint Smart Home Arena hosts more than 100 events each year that draw approximately 1.8 million visitors. The demographic isn’t the same for each event. Fans attending a Utah Jazz basketball game may want different dining options than fans taking in a Katy Perry concert.

Olsen says the arena engaged in a two-step process for targeting the restaurants that would be the best fit. They identified what types of food people wanted when they came to sporting event or concert. Then they made a determination on which local restaurants best fit those categories.

“We did a lot of research but we also went out and did our own food tasting,” Olsen says. “Testing some things out and getting a feel for what we liked and what worked. The ones that are in the arena are the ones that rose to the top.”

Once it settled on the right options, Vivint Smart Home Arena entered into multiyear deals with all the restaurants. These contracts range from three to five years and cover a multitude of operational aspects, including food purchasing, food preparation, restaurant staffing and operations, and menu boards.

When local favorite R&R Barbecue signed a contract with Vivint Smart Home Arena, co-founder and co-owner Roger Livingston felt confident it would work because of the relationships they had already built with the Miller family. The contract has given them a great deal of autonomy. The arena provided equipment and space for the restaurant. R&R Barbecue had control over all other aspects from staffing to food.

It ultimately invested $750,000 into doing business with the arena.

“They’re all our employees, all of our own food,” Livingston says. “We have complete control over the quality and the amounts. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Our goal was that if we can’t provide the same quality of food in our restaurants and in the arena, then we wouldn’t do it.”

Reaching new fans

Local restaurants approached by arena management jumped at the chance to set up shop inside a bustling NBA arena. Some of the restaurants were already quite well known, not just in the community, but to other NBA teams. R&R Barbecue provided food for clubs and suites in the arena. Visiting NBA teams also order food for their players and staff. The Washington Wizards have had R&R Barbecue provide team meals when they play the Utah Jazz over the past three seasons. For R&R Barbecue, having a restaurant inside of the arena is a natural progression in their relationship with the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.

For those just dipping their toes into the scene, like local hot-dog chain J Dawgs, it was an opportunity to reach a wider audience. J Dawgs founder and owner Jayson Edwards says it introduces his chain’s signature hot dogs to a larger demographic as part of a larger push to expand into Salt Lake County and Davis County.

In only a few months since opening up a J Dawgs location inside the arena, Edwards says business has spiked significantly at the company’s downtown Salt Lake City location outside of the arena because of the increased name recognition.

“It’s great for the exposure, it’s great for the brand, it’s great for legitimacy,” Edwards says. “You get a lot of people that look at you like the little kid in the lemonade stand because we have really small stores and we have really small staff. Hot dogs aren’t looked on with a high regard. … We’ve changed all of that.”

Setting up shop

It’s tough to miss R&R Barbecue when you walk inside Vivint Smart Home Arena. It is one of the four anchor restaurants occupying each corner of the main concourse. Fans make a quick detour to dine on brisket, chicken or ribs once they walk through the door.

“We’re one of the first locations they see,” says Livingston. “It’s been very successful. We have lines 50 to 60 deep almost every night.”

R&R Barbecue has experienced great success from having both a restaurant and catering presence inside Vivint Smart Home Arena. It recently opened a brand-new catering center that houses six smokers—and each smoker can handle up to 700 pounds of meat.

Restaurant expansion is also in the cards for R&R Barbecue. It plans to expand to 11 or 12 locations in Utah by year’s end. The goal, as soon as 2019, is to begin opening up new restaurants outside of Utah. “The numbers are still growing on how many people we’re serving every night,” Livingston says. “The numbers are growing with what we’re providing the suites and the clubs. That’s because of the demand of their members that have asked to keep our food in there. It’s just going to help our customer base grow with the other companies here in Utah.”

Being a long-term partner with Vivint Smart Home Arena is also opening doors for J Dawgs, says Edwards. The hot-dog chain already has seven locations along the Wasatch Front. This deal will make it easier to put down roots in more places and help build the brand in ways Edwards has dreamed of since he opened his first J Dawgs location in 2004.

“I’m incredibly grateful to them for giving us this chance,” Edwards says. “Honestly, there’s a lot of people that could be in the arena that are not.”

A new trend

What Vivint Smart Home Arena is doing with its dining options is still unique among arenas and stadiums around the nation. Only a few have partnered with local restaurants to enhance food choices for fans. The trend toward incorporating local fare is growing and Vivint Smart Home Arena has gotten in on the ground floor.

Olsen says that instead of trying to duplicate and recreate the offerings available locally, it made more sense to bring local favorites directly to the arena. It offered a value add from the arena’s perspective because many people will go out to eat before a concert or sporting event. Bringing restaurants inside the arena does a better job of encouraging fans to come early and eat there instead of somewhere else.

“People expect great food when they come to the arena,” Olsen says. “They’re either going to eat somewhere else or they’re going to eat at the arena. If we don’t compete with where they can eat somewhere else, we’re going to lose those fans eating at our arena.”

A varied menu of available cuisine serves as an added enticement for arena guests. They have the ability to get something to fit their tastes. Vivint Smart Home Arena has restaurants offering Mexican food, pizza, barbecue, sandwiches, Asian dishes, hot dogs, burgers and specialty ice cream.

This is not your typical concession stand food. It represents the next generation in arena offerings.

“People are excited about it,” Edwards says. “It’s a nice change. They’re ready for it.”