To be chosen seemed like a dream, like getting asked to the prom by the football captain.
The biggest thing to happen to Minneapolis entertainment-related commerce... well, ever, wanted these small food vendors to slap its brand on them.
The brand: U.S. Bank Stadium. With 60,000-plus captive customers, the new Vikings stadium is a gold mine, right?
Perhaps not. At least not for the food vendors who claim they haven’t seen a dime of the money owed them since football season started more than three months ago. Their frustrations are mounting by the day, but they're reluctant to go on record for fear of repercussions -- repercussions, they fear, that could include never seeing any payment at all.
“We’re this tiny company going up against this huge giant,” said a representative for one small company who insisted on remaining anonymous.
Jon Farnsworth, an attorney with the Felhaber Larson firm, was retained to represent two U.S. Bank Stadium vendors (both of whom wish to remain anonymous). Farnsworth says neither of his clients has been paid any of the monthly royalties checks they are owed.
Per the terms of their contracts, vendors are supposed to be paid monthly, according to Farnsworth. It's been three months, and they're waiting for their first check.
Farnsworth says he has been contacting Aramark on behalf of his clients since October 20 and has received “no follow-up." He can’t tell if this is an issue of “corporate ineptitude,” or indicates that Aramark is in some sort of financial trouble. Whatever the issue, he emphasizes that it’s enough money that it could be the difference of his clients “making it or not making it.”
“It’s a good chunk of change,” he adds.
One of the clients says that they have not even been provided with profit and loss statements by Aramark, so they can't even determine how much money they're owed. Farnsworth says they estimate their cut of the revenue is in the neighborhood of $20,000.
One vendor claims that she has have fulfilled three separate orders, and have not received payment for the invoices she's submitted. However, this vendor added that the lack of payment has only been one of her headaches since she agreed to sign on as one of the stadium hospitality partners with Aramark, the food services giant in charge of stadium hospitality.
Aramark is a food, facilities, and uniforms service provider with over 270,000 employees in 21 countries around the world, with clients ranging from colleges to corrections institutions to sports stadiums.
Non-communication has been this vendor's biggest gripe in dealing with Aramark, claiming she receives no return correspondence via phone call or email when she has a question or concern. She also said that the seven-day advance notice that the contract requires for orders has not been respected, and that instead she’s expected to fulfill orders “on the fly.”
Perhaps her biggest concern is that her company isn’t being promoted or advertised in the luxury suites level of the stadium, as promised, and she suspects that the product is not being promoted at all. Repeat requests for a copy of a menu or other promotional materials have not been produced, she says. “We were anticipating much, much more [business].”
Mary Leonard has owned Chocolate Celeste, a handmade St. Paul-based truffle company, for 15 years. She, too, is disappointed in what transpired after agreeing to sell her wares at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Leonard also claims her product has not been offered as a suites level treat as she was promised, and says she has not seen any promotional materials bearing her company’s branding or name. She said the orders she did provide were on a “tiny” dessert display in the Clubs Level of the stadium (a level below the luxury suites).
“I felt they made a big deal about partnering with women and minority businesses," Leonard wrote in an email to City Pages. "There was a large event for the press. They gave us a personalized game balI -- which I really have no use for. They did not provide us with their requirements for payment until after we had delivered product. My terms are due on receipt. Their terms, which I just received last week, are 45 days. I have not received any payments and I have asked several times, but not as many times as other [vendors]."
She said she has informed Aramark that she will no longer be providing them with product. “It's not a huge deal for me, but it could be for others... because their orders were bigger.”
"Bigger" as in the independent restaurant that tells City Pages it was promised monthly royalty checks in exchange for the use of the name, branding, recipes, and general direction on how to prepare its dishes for concessions. (Because Aramark is unionized, employees of the actual restaurant brand are not allowed to prepare food, but are only to provide instruction to Aramark staff.) However, the owner of the restaurant says Aramark was so ill-prepared for the task, they wound up putting one of the restaurant's staff on payroll.
The restaurant owner says that person hasn't been paid, either.
Most, if not all of the small business owners that were advertised under the so-called "Equity Program," where minority and woman-owned businesses were touted as an "authentic and genuine dining experience at U.S. Bank Stadium," say they are waiting for the right moment to expose their experiences. One woman says she has lost over $17,000 in the process of working with the stadium in equipment costs and lost wages, due to clearing her calendar to deal with stadium business.
Business, she says, that never arrived: "The equipment is sitting in the garage," she says. "I could be ruined."
She hopes that she will still see some business, which is why she doesn't want her name printed, but her hopes are waning. She also believes her product has never been adverstised, as repeated requests for proof of that advertisement have gone unanswered. She added that she, along with all of the Equity Program vendors, went into the program with the understanding that they would be vendors inside of the stadium itself. Instead, the only order she's received to date is one request for 30 pounds' worth of product. And, she says, the stadium wanted that for free. She added that many other vendors have also received requests for freebies.
Dave Freireich, a public relations spokesman for Aramark, sent this comment via email to City Pages Tuesday morning: “Our partners are integral to the success of the food and beverage program at U.S. Bank Stadium and we apologize for this unexpected delay. There was a clerical error in processing some payments that has been resolved.”
Leonard says she was contacted by Aramark on Monday, after City Pages began making inquiries into the situatuon facing stadium vendors, and was told she would receive payment later this week.
Two vendors, St. Agnes Bakery and Kramarczuk's Sausage Company, told City Pages they have been paid; though the former says the payments are "not exactly current," and the latter says that they had to "lean on [Aramark] a bit" to get their money.
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