Tennis rules at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the U.S. Open. But don’t overlook the importance of dining for the 700,000 fans who stay an average of six to eight hours each day of the two-week tournament.
“We think of the Open as an entertainment spectacle,” says Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the United States Tennis Association’s national tennis center. “The number-one reason is tennis, after that food and shopping is what makes their experience.”
As the USTA preps welcoming back fans to the 2021 event after holding 2020 without patrons, the kitchen prep remains top of mind, including bringing in a slate of new providers and celebrity chefs Alex Guarnaschelli and Josh Capon.
Zausner says that every year the USTA and concessionaire partner Levy incrementally add pieces here and there, either replacing older concepts or partners who no longer can participate, but says that the changes were a bit heftier this year for multiple reasons, including a year off from serving at the tournament, the pandemic changing the restaurant landscape in New York and staffing shortages for some providers.
He called the new lineup an “impressive leap” for fans.
Landing Guarnaschelli has been a goal of Zausner’s for as long as he can remember. “I have Alex out to the Open every year and kept telling her that one of these days we have to get you out here,” he says. “The timing has to be right.” And now it is. The former Café Spiaggia space on the ground’s South Plaza became available and once Guarnaschelli saw it, she was enamored.
Known as Fare by Alex Guarnaschelli, the menu of greenmarket-inspired dishes will fill an outside space—on trend for 2021—that accommodates over 100 diners and overlooks the fountains of the South Plaza, a place patrons walk past multiple times each day. The location will help give Guarnaschelli additional buzz.
Capon marks another big addition to the 2021 lineup, producing his new Fly Fish @ Oyster Bar concept of lobster rolls, ceviche and poke at the Grandstand Food Village and into Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Both Guarnaschelli and Capon will bring in a management team to oversee a staff of Levy workers. Dining locations work one of three ways at the U.S. Open, with either a chef and management team leading Levy workers, a fully Levy-driven concept and staffing set-up or a restaurant overseeing every aspect, including staffing, of their space. Zausner says that with the hospitality industry in New York City struggling with staffing and product costs, some partners scaled back their number of locations to ensure they could handle the needs of both the U.S. Open and an unusually robust business at their home restaurants. And since the 14-day onslaught of fans can be daunting, even for experienced chefs, he says starting Guarnaschelli and Capon with assistance from Levy will help ensure they can manage the event and stick around for years to come.
The mix of changes in 2021 has allowed plenty of movement across the site, all while welcoming back some key favorites. Jim Abbey, U.S. Open executive chef, will work with a culinary team of 250 to prepare cuisine across seven restaurants, 60 concession stands and 90 suites. Zausner says he always strives to give visitors to the tournament a true feel of dining in the diverse environment of New York City without having to leave the grounds. Expect to see Harlem-based James Beard award-winner JJ Johnson’s FieldTrip, Pat LaFrieda Meat Co., Fuku, Los Tacos No. 1, San Matteo NYC, Korilla BBQ, Poke Yachty and, also new for 2021, Stuf’d, Urbun, Stacked, Eataly and so many more.
Getting Eataly on board was another big win for Zausner. The largest Italian retail and dining experience in the world will bring a small-scale concept to the food village.
Benjamin Steakhouse, one of the city’s top steakhouses, takes over the Champions space in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which Zausner says serves as a prime example of fans from the area knowing they can get their favorites on site. “Our subscribers know everything about New York,” he says. “They know Josh Capon, Ed Brown from The Sea Grill, Benjamin Steakhouse, people know these locations. They come in and say, ‘oh, they have a Benjamin Steakhouse,’ it is a big thrill to experience what they would be doing in Manhattan.”
Other well-known chefs on site include Mojito by David Burke with a Cuban-Asian-American fusion menu on the ground floor of Arthur Ashe Stadiums and ACES where Michelin-starred Brown and Masaharu Morimoto team up.
While the U.S. Open can draw a hefty percentage of international visitors, this year Zausner expects more fans coming from the Interstate 95 corridor from Massachusetts down to Washington, D.C. Still, stretching every style, trend and price point presents choice while bringing the “bold flavors of New York.”
U.S. Open Food Facts & Figures
The U.S. Open will serve approximately:
750,000 melon balls
90,000 pounds of beef
9,000 pounds of lobster
7.5 tons of crab, shrimp and lobster
400,000 individual berries
225,000 hamburgers and hot dogs
85,000 pounds of poultry
12.5 tons of lettuce
35,000 pounds of tomatoes
7,000 specialty tennis ball cookies