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Menus take center stage: how local venues accommodate meals for big-name performers

For performers on the road, meals can steal the show


The image of the star performer on tour often is one of excess and high-priced backstage demands:

Cases of expensive Champagne. Hard-to-find dishes. Very restricted diets, rafts of food that will never be eaten, specialties that need to be flown to the concert venue.

Some of those concert rider demands — like the band Van Halen famously forbidding brown M&Ms in their catering requirements — may have more to do with making sure venues have read the full contract carefully than any aversion to particular chocolate candies.

But performers do need to be fed. They need something to drink. And, if they’ve been on the road for a while, food becomes more than just basic sustenance.

It can become a low point of their day, or almost a cause for celebration.

“Many times, (performers) are, like, ‘Yes! Catering’s here!’ ” says Jennifer Kiebler, of Lancaster-based Simply From Scratch, which feeds many of the performers at Millersville University’s Ware Center in downtown Lancaster.

The logistics of arranging those meals at local venues fall to a collection of event coordinators and house and company managers who juggle schedules, budgets and expectations in order to keep performers fed and satisfied.

Weird requests

Luckily, they say, most contracts they receive are straightforward — and realistic — about requirements.

Weird requests “have been really rare for the most part,” says Paige Sodano. Event coordinator at The Ware Center for the past three years, Sodano is responsible for fulfilling the performers’ food requests.

“The process kind of starts with the production coordinator,” Alex Bender, Sodano says. “He receives the riders and enters the info on an event sheet. We then take that info — ‘five meats,’ or whatever — and place an order with a local caterer.”

Fortunately, she says, the vast majority of Ware Center’s performers have been easy to accommodate.

“For the most part, (the contract stipulates) a protein, a starch, a veggie,” Sodano says. “We might get requests for ‘no condiments,’ ‘no sauces,’ ‘no beef,’ but (artists) usually are not super picky.

“The most we’ve gotten — once in a blue moon — is maybe a certain kind of spring water, or a request for organic-only fruit. Then, we just go to the grocery store.”

That process gets repeated about 30 times a season, September through April, Sodano says. Some shows during the season don’t have a contracted food requirement, and the approximately 100 annual facility rentals are handled differently.

Sodano’s biggest challenge? “Some (artists) will be like, ‘Oh, we wanted Champagne, chilled,’ and we have to break it to them” that alcohol is not allowed in The Ware Center.

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Made to order

Fulfilling performers’ culinary demands often falls to local caterers.

The food requests, says Kiebler, whose company feeds most of The Ware Center performers, usually are pretty standard.

“We typically do what you would order out” at a restaurant,” Kiebler says. “A lot of grilled chicken — most of them want something on the healthier side, and most want something hot.

“We often hear they’re on the road a lot, so meals they get at venues are the best that they have. They don’t (otherwise) get to have a meal in-house; they often even don’t stop at a restaurant.”

What are the usual special requests?

No overly spicy foods. At least one or two vegetarian and/or vegan options (“For them,” Kiebler says, “We’ll often do a vegetarian lasagna, and we also have a vegan sausage served over couscous or rice.”)

“Some of them get pretty specific in their beverages,” Kiebler says. “A lot of them only want X, Y or Z — certain brands, or certain flavors. We have a lot of requests like, ‘Anything but’ or what’s not to be included.”

Sometimes, Kiebler says, Simply From Scratch will have a week to prepare a menu. Other times, performers wait until the last minute to notify The Ware Center — or WJTL’s Junction Center in Manheim, where they also cater to performers — about dietary restrictions and demands.

‘Hard-earned dollars’

Randall Frizado’s challenge is a bit different. As company manager at the Fulton Theatre, Frizado doesn’t need to deal with a revolving door of performers and artists coming and going from single-night shows.

“It’s not like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is coming in and the rider says (the venue has to provide) chicken breasts and lemonade,” Frizado says.

“I can’t tell you the last time that happened — maybe five years ago, when we had a tour group from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ come through.”

Instead, the Fulton “brings in bodies, about 20 to 30 people coming to Lancaster for six weeks” for a show’s full duration.

“As an Equity (union) house, the specific rules we have to follow don’t really involve food,” says Frizado, who’s wrapping up his fifth season in his Fulton management role.

The Fulton provides a welcoming spread on the first day of a show’s rehearsal, he says, “a snack buffet of sorts, with bagels, fresh fruit, vegetables, a sweet of some sort. And then opening night we have a catered party that the audience and cast are invited to.”

Beyond that, Frizado says, the actors are on their own. That means food becomes a factor in a different way for Fulton performers.

“They’re here and (spending) their money in downtown restaurants and market and cafes and around the corner and quick to-go places,” Frizado says. “That’s where they’re spending their hard-earned dollars.”

A welcome piece of the Fulton’s current $29 million upgrade and expansion, he adds, will be the upgraded on-site housing for visiting artists.

“There’s often such a small window between (same-day) shows,” Frizado says. “They’ll be able to go home and rest and prepare a meal.”

And that, in turn, expands the Fulton staff’s current role, in which they “sort of act as ambassadors,” providing suggestions when they’re asked where to take guests for an Amish experience, or a good French restaurant, or Mongolian food, or groceries.

“The great thing about Lancaster,” Frizado says, “is that there are so many restaurants popping up. So for returning performers, there’s always something new.”