Yankee Stadium is home to the winningest franchise in baseball, a rabid fan base, and a secret elevator.
Well, maybe it’s not exactly a secret, but very few people know where it is. When the building was being designed, this elevator was built to access only a very small part of the stadium that can’t be reached any other way. Even those who might have seen it once by chance (it’s not really in a place many people walk through) likely have no idea where it goes, and only a handful of people are allowed to use it.
Even if you were somehow able to find this secret elevator and use it to get to the secluded location, you’d be met with a door that can only be opened using both halves of a pair of two corresponding keys. Only one of the two keys belongs to the New York Yankees.
This isn’t some top-secret office for the owner. Nor is it some clandestine operation by the team’s analytics department. It’s not even something like the central security hub or the location of a vault.
It’s the kosher kitchen.
* * *
The story of how this kitchen came about is fairly simple. Yankee Stadium has always needed a greater kosher component than virtually every other stadium on the planet. Baseball brings 80-plus home games spanning half the calendar year. With a capacity over 46,000 in a metropolitan area that features such a large kosher-keeping population, kosher food in the ballpark is a necessity. Unlike the New York Mets’ home at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium isn’t surrounded by kosher options where fans can grab a bite to eat before the game or bring something with them to the ballpark. Given those circumstances, the Yankees decided to set up what is still an unprecedented operation when it comes to kosher food at a sporting venue.
When it opened in 2009 after three years and $2.3 billion of construction, the newer Yankee Stadium had a kosher kitchen built into it. The idea was that with the new stadium’s multiple premium seating options, something should be available for the kosher consumer as well. After switching hands a few times, the Star-K now provides the certification for the kitchen.
Legends Hospitality operates many things in Yankee Stadium, including the food services. The Yankees are a partner in the ownership, but Legends is actually a brand that provides services to stadiums all over the world. Though you shouldn’t expect to go to their other stadiums and find kosher kitchens.
The only way the operation works is partnership. Luckily, the Star-K and Legends have been able to create a bond that yields an unmatched product as far as stadium kosher food goes. Given that Legends itself isn’t a kosher operation, the functionality of the arrangement is quite the accomplishment.
Chef Matt Gibson has been at Yankee Stadium for 12 years now and is the senior executive chef. He knows a lot about kashrus now, but that wasn’t always the case.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much more than the basics,” Gibson said. “I have enjoyed learning more about kosher food and religion over the years.”
But after more than a decade, the partnership is in a great place and things are running more smoothly than ever.
“After so many years working closely with Chef Matt Gibson and Legends, they have gotten to the other side of the learning curve,” said Rabbi Binyomin Steinmetz of the Star-K. “They are very well-versed in the challenges, rules, regulations, and policies, and they are ready, willing, and able to abide by everything. The kashrus aspect is respected by the whole culinary staff and the cooperation is what makes everything work.”
Speaking of the staff, one of the most important factors in their success is that the kitchen staff for the kosher kitchen works exclusively there. They don’t rotate to other kitchens in the stadium. It’s much easier to have a staff that knows everything about kashrus when that staff stays the same. They know that they can’t bring in outside food for lunch, to only take vegetables from the bins that indicate they’ve already been checked for bugs, and that nothing leaves the kitchen without a mashgiach sealing it with the stickers and tape that mark things as kosher.
“[Rabbi Steinmetz] has been a great teacher. He is very informative, compassionate, and takes the time to make sure everyone understands the procedures set in place to maintain the highest kosher standards,” said Gibson. “I am lucky enough to call him a mentor, a colleague, and, most importantly, a friend.”
The kosher kitchen cooks for about 700 people per night. Sometimes that’s too much, and sometimes they are pumping out more during the game to catch up with demand. The menu offerings for the actual Legends Suite Club kosher action station change daily to a certain extent, and everything is getting made fresh daily except the pastries for dessert.
That food has to be shipped out to various locations in the stadium so that it’s available in a timely fashion. One of the difficulties is the size of the venue. Some locations that require kosher food are nowhere near others. Not only that, but the food has to be escorted there by a mashgiach.
“If we are working hand-in-hand, that challenge is met,” Rabbi Steinmetz said. “We have a team of five mashgichim who are dedicated to working at the stadium. All equipment is very distinctly marked and movement throughout the stadium is very closely controlled, with mashgichim accompanying any food. As large as the stadium is, we manage to have a very restricted system with a clear flow.”
And while that system for your average game is mostly perfected at this point, they don’t stop there. The kitchen is also able to accommodate very special circumstances as well. There were two games during the Nine Days this year. With most patrons who keep kosher abstaining from meat, the menus were tweaked to include fish (both cooked and raw) and even plant-based chicken nuggets for the lower tier offerings.
The kitchen even has china in case they need to cater an event that requires it. You could host a bar mitzvah for 500 people at the stadium during the off-season and the kosher staff could accommodate the request. Even if it’s something they haven’t done before, reach out and ask. They appreciate a challenge.
* * *
There are many places in the stadium where you can order kosher food. For most people, that’s probably limited to the kosher stands available on the concourses. But even that isn’t quite as limited as it was before.
This season, Prime Kosher Sports (PKS) took over the kosher vending at Yankee Stadium. PKS operates the kosher stands at four other sporting venues and they clearly know their stuff. They upgraded the offerings available at the stands in all four of the locations in the stadium (sections 112, 214, 229, and 323). The menu now includes pulled barbeque brisket on a pretzel bun, deli wraps, sausages with peppers and onions, hot dogs, knishes, and soft pretzels.
“Managing four stands is great,” said Eli Arje of PKS. “Our experience with other venues has made it smooth to operate.”
They even had a custom grill built for the main stand in section 112. The new setup allows them to make a better product than the previous system where the hot dogs were boiled. PKS hopes to have all the other stands converted by next year as well.
“Servicing the best fans and the best community means having the best equipment to make the best product,” Arje said of the recent upgrades. “The feedback we’ve received has been heartwarming.”
One more way that PKS serves the fans is by hosting minyan during the seventh inning stretch of every game. It’s mincha for day games and ma’ariv for night games. This takes place right across from the stand in section 112, though sometimes there are minyanim at the other stands if there are enough people around.
* * *
The premium offerings in the stadium are a bit more difficult to pin down than finding a kosher stand. The offers vary based on a number of factors, but one rule of thumb is that they are often meant to replicate what the non-kosher customer is getting as closely as possible.
The Legends Suite Club is a two-level indoor area that is accessible for those with seats in the bottom half of the lower bowl between the dugouts. In other words, if you’re sitting in the best seats, you also get the best food.
While it would be impossible to replicate the regular buffet at the Legends Suite Club, the kosher action station is pretty amazing. Located on the lower level of the club, the station can be found just to the left of the stairs as you descend. Here you’ll find separate disposable plates and plasticware (the other stations have reusables) and a buffet where a server behind the glass will fill your plate with that day’s delicacies.
The menu includes two choices for entrées (one that is either beef, veal, or lamb and another that is chicken), one starch-based side dish, and one vegetable side dish. That might sound plain, but this is a top-quality operation. A menu might consist of herb-grilled veal chops or grilled chicken in a lemon caper sauce with sides of garlic herb fingerling potatoes and grilled summer squash with cherry tomatoes.
Then there are the auxiliary menu items. These include a salad (usually something interesting), the “ballpark frank” section (hot dog or sausage with sauerkraut, peppers and onions, chili, etc.), a Mediterranean Mezze selection (usually one item like kibbeh, a dip like hummus, and something to dip in it like pita), and dessert (a selection of pastries and fresh fruit).
If you really want to lean into the experience, the bar actually carries mevushal wine. It may only be available for purchase by the bottle, but the fact that it’s even an option is impressive.
There’s always a Star-K mashgiach there to answer questions if a guest isn’t sure about something, though certain things fall outside their purview. For instance, there is also plenty of packaged food at Legends that is included with the ticket. But for that, every person is their own mashgiach.
In terms of beverages, you’ll find soda and water for the taking. If you’re inclined to try to eat dairy before venturing to the action station, there’s ice cream by the scoop (currently Blue Bunny, but make sure to check for yourself) as well as packaged ice cream bars, not to mention the buckets of fun-size candy bars. As for pareve snacks to take to your seat, there are chips, peanuts, and pretzels available also.
* * *
Far away from home plate, you might want to check out the Audi Yankees Club. This fancy lounge sits on the suite level behind the left-field foul pole. It features a bar when you first walk in, followed by a dining room with indoor tiered seating below and a buffet on the concourse. Sadly, the only way you’ll see a kosher buffet up here is if you get a large enough group and tell the kitchen in advance.
That said, if you have a ticket to a tiered seat (they have a countertop in front of them), you’re entitled to Legends food to substitute for the high-end buffet behind you. Even without a ticket for tiered seating in Audi, you can book a table there if you have “Audi Club Access” listed on your ticket. This usually comes with some of the better seats in the park. If you book a table, you can also get kosher Legends food for your meal. Just keep in mind that eating at Audi is $75 per person plus tax and tip.
If you’re waiting for your meals to arrive from Legends and you’re wondering what there is at Audi that’s packaged and kosher, you’re limited to water, soda, chips, and scooped ice cream (just remember that those things aren’t overseen by the Star-K).
Next door, the Budweiser Party Deck is a unique spot in the park. Located just off the Audi Club, it’s an outdoor area that can be booked by one group (minimum 40 people) per game. Those on the Budweiser deck have access to the buffet from Audi, which also means that you can get Legends food as an individual or even as a buffet if the whole group is kosher.
The rest of this level of the ballpark is occupied by the three different sizes of suites in the ballpark. Luxury suites hold 16-36 people, party suites are for groups of 25-80, and club suites can accommodate 45-100 guests. Any kosher-keeping patron in a suite can ask the attendant to bring kosher food. Hot dogs, chicken tenders, and pastries are available free of charge. Only the luxury suites include domestic beer, but all the suites are stocked with water, soda, and chips.
In the event that a person in a suite wants food from Legends instead of the basic offerings, that can be done as well. The suite manager can charge the guest for any of the Legends options ($25 for entrée and side dishes and $7-$9 for auxiliary items) and have the food brought up to the suite.
If the suite is being reserved for a group that wants only kosher food, that’s not an issue. The kosher team will work with the suite hosts to put together a kosher buffet. Just like any non-kosher group, the customer can ask for different types of food to be added to the buffet on an á la carte basis with a few days of advance notice.
* * *
Back down near Legends, there are the Champions Suite seats. They might be the next best thing to Legends and that’s not just because of the view. Located in the sections in the bottom half of the lower bowl between the dugouts and the short outfield, these sections come with food and drinks as well.
But unlike Legends, there’s no buffet. Servers will take orders and bring food to your seat free of charge. There’s also a bar under the stands on each side where Champions ticket-holders can get stuff for free to take back to their seats. Some of the kosher options there include soda, water, packaged ice cream bars, chips, and peanuts.
As far as the kosher options for delivery to your seat, you can order everything from Legends other than the main entrée and side dishes. So they’ll bring you the salad, loaded hot dog or sausage, mezze platter, and dessert, but not the lamb chops. In place of that entrée, you can order off a menu that includes hamburgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, sausages, French fries, and knishes… so you definitely won’t go hungry.
Another premium spot is the Delta SKY360° Suite, which is located behind home plate in the second deck. If you purchase group tickets to Delta (ten people or more) your ticket includes a food and beverage package. That entitles you to hamburgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, sausages, French fries, and knishes just like those in Champions. But whereas Champions includes the auxiliary Legends food, Delta does not. But if there’s something from Legends that you really want, you can purchase it á la carte from the counter in Delta.
The food and beverage package in Delta covers pretty much everything available to purchase when it comes to food behind the counter. That means scooped ice cream, bags of M&Ms, Cracker Jack, bagged cotton candy, chips, and peanuts are all available to you – just make sure to double check for a hashgacha. The liquid component of the package includes water, soda, and domestic beer.
Those with individual tickets to Delta are in the same boat as everyone in the Jim Beam Suite (behind home plate on the third deck) and the Ford Field MVP Club (top half of the lower bowl between the dugouts). Water, soda, and peanuts are free, and Legends food can be ordered á la carte from the counter.
* * *
With so much going on surrounding the kosher operation, it’s hard to see how things might get better. But that’s the goal.
“We hope that the Legends kosher offerings continue to grow with creative menus and gourmet offerings,” Rabbi Steinmetz said. “As seasons pass, there’s more options at more locations and we get more efficient at providing them.”
Not only that, but they are getting better when it comes to the small things. For instance, the rabbi now makes sure that any time a whole suite is kosher, the kitchen sends cut lemons and limes for the bartenders to use in drinks. And Gibson has learned to make sure that whenever the kosher action station is serving lamb, veal, or prime rib, that the treif stations have a similar quality selection. Otherwise, the kosher station gets raided by those that don’t keep kosher but understandably want amazing food.
“I think the ultimate goal is to provide the best kosher dining experience available in the sports world at such an iconic venue,” said Gibson. “We continue to push the envelope and raise the bar with our kosher offerings.”
The bar likely can’t be raised that much more, but it sounds like they are going to give it a shot. After all, you can’t hit the pitch unless you take a swing.