When the UCF Knights kick off at the first home game on Thursday, Sept. 3, some of the fans will be cheering with a mouthful of brisket from 4 Rivers Smokehouse.
I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for a couple of weeks, but there were still a couple of obstacles in the way that kept it from becoming a done deal. But our friends at Orlando Business Journal have announced that it is a go, and I’ve just confirmed it with John Rivers.
Rivers and his catering team will be providing barbecue goodies for the Carl Black and Gold Cabana, a new premium seating area with a Florida theme (think tiki bar) that is being constructed on the east side of Bright House Stadium. As loyal fans know, the home team crowd sits on the west side of the stadium, so the east side usually has a lot of empty seats.
“I admire what they’ve done,” Rivers told me as he was driving back to Orlando after checking out one of his restaurants in Gainesville. “They’ve taken unused space and turned it into a revenue generating area.”
Rivers had told me about the negotiations a few weeks ago, but he said a last-minute requirement was threatening to kill the deal. The requirement was for a $25,000 marketing fee that the athletic department wanted Rivers to pay. “We’ve never paid for business or paid a marketing fee,” Rivers told me. Anyone who knows Rivers and his commitment to giving back knows that it wasn’t the money itself, it was the principle. Rivers said that he met with officials and said that what he’d rather do is write a check that would go directly to a scholarship fund, and that’s what he did. “Now I feel good knowing that it’s going to help a kid go to college.” Rivers said he is looking at setting up a foundation under his company’s name for future scholarship contributions.
The stadium 4 Rivers will not be a full smokehouse setup. In fact, there will be no cooking there at all. It will be more of a catering operation. Rivers said that they’ll offer a limited menu of fan favorites at first, featuring items that only need to be carved and sliced for service. But he also plans to offer some new items, such as a smoked turkey leg or Texas sausage on a stick served with a hoagie roll.
Rivers says he isn’t daunted by the size. The new area, now called the Carl Black and Gold Club, will seat 900 fans according to Rivers, will seat only about 450 (heck, you’ll find that many standing in line at the 4 Rivers Smokehouse on University Drive on a busy lunch hour) and he says his team has catered events 10 times that size.
There was another issue that was threatening to but the kibosh on the deal. Centerplate, the hospitality and foodservice company, has the contract to provide food at the stadium, and it balked at the prospect of having an outsider serving food inside the venue. Calls to UCF’s athletics department regarding that situation were not immediately returned.
Memberships to the Carl Black and Gold Cabana are $900, which includes admission to the game and some other premium goodies. A spokesman for the university said the memberships are about 75 percent sold. For information about the Carl Black and Gold Cabana, call UCF at 407-823-1000.