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Ferry concessions

Centerplate makes your ride better

The ferry system is so Northwest. There's something about getting on those boats, being on the water, and going someplace beautiful and fun. In the past there's been a mix of players supplying food and beverage on the ferries. In the fall of 2016, the contract was awarded to Centerplate which seems ironic because it's a huge company (parent company is Sodexo) that provides hospitality to "gathering places across North America and the United Kingdom." It doesn't seem very Northwest. But here's the deal. Since taking over the contract, they have made a huge improvement in the offerings on the boats and involved lots of local companies.

Centerplate GM Rich Welfringer has been with the company for 20 years; coming into the ferry project in June 2018. "We wanted the opportunity to bring what we do on a daily basis for thousands of people across the country to the ferry system, bringing new twists and experiences to what ferry riders expect. Ferries are a major form of transportation here. We want to mix it up for our commuters who shouldn't have to see the same things day in and day out. And tourists to the area should experience local items. Everyone should expect and get fresh, high quality, and as many local products as possible."

Early on in the contract, they brought on Schwartz Brothers' pastries and used smaller local companies like Sweet Dahlia Baking on Bainbridge Island, CB's Nuts in Kingston, and Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co. in Freeland. They also use Uli's sausages from Pike Place Market.

They're stepping up their game further this year:

Beverage

"There's an emphasis on people wanting less soda pop and more other options. We get a diverse crowd, and we want to please as many people as possible."

o Perhaps the most fun is the Chainline Brewing Co. (Kirkland) which has created Puget Sound India Pale Ale, hazy and juicy IPA that is ONLY available on Washington ferries. It made its appearance in June of this year.

o Pike Brewing Kilt Lifter is available in cans, and Pike Pale Ale is on tap.

o There are more local brews plus Columbia Crest Sauvignon Blanc, Sagelands Cab Sav, and Dark Horse (California) Rosé.

o Kombucha Town is new this year. "We wanted to refresh our kombucha line," says Rich. "We're getting away from glass containers, and using cans which are easier to recycle. There are five flavors based on runs out of Anacortes. Some flavors will also be on boats in the south Sound."

o Purity juices. "These are organic. We rolled them into different routes near the end of July. The Blueberry Pomegranate, Peach Paradise Blend, and Orange Mango Blend are their top sellers."

o Sweet Leaf tea. "Also organic, we already have the Mint and Honey, as well as the Sweet Tea on the boats. We added the unsweetened tea at the end of July."

o Lemi lemonades. "I'm thrilled to have these. We were the first in the market to have these from the distributor. I've tasted all the flavors and they're incredible. 15 calories per can and they don't taste artificial." Look for original, strawberry, blue raspberry, and peach flavors.

Food

o Beyond Burger showed up on boats in late July. "We've seen and tried a lot of plant-based items, but Beyond Burger is really darned good. We're happy to have a vegan entrée option for riders."

o Beanfields chips are also vegan. "We brought these in to give vegans something to snack on. Chips are made from black beans, navy beans, and rice."

o Blazing Bagels out of Redmond have been on the boats for about a year-and-a-half. "We're expanding with Blazing Bagels. In late July, we added the bagel chips. We also added several flavored cream cheeses."

o Sweet tooth? Head right for the Harvey's Original Toffee or Harvey's Toffee Popcorn. "This is the company that makes hot buttered rum mix-they're a Northwest staple. The company has been around since the early '50s. These items went on runs out of Bremerton in May."

o CB's Organic Kettle Roasted Nuts: you can get two flavors on the boats, sea salt or jalapeño. "The jalapeño isn't super spicy, it just adds a little kick."

o "Lopez Island Creamery cones have been in the Anacortes café building marina, and we're expanding to offer 8 oz. cups on select larger routes."

Something fun they did in August was Battle Chowder. Ivar's has had their chowder on the boats since inception. Rich thought it would be fun to bring on Pike Place Chowder from the Pike Place Market and have a food throw-down. "It's a mock contest. Ivar's has been a great partner and will stay on, but locals and tourists alike recognize both Ivar's and Pike Place Chowder. The battle will take place on six boats, the three Seattle routes. This is just to stimulate a little excitement/entertainment. Riders can vote for their favorites and enter a drawing for items. Plus it gives the daily commuters something different. We're planning on a two-week run, but we'll see what happens."

The ferry system complexity is often misunderstood. "There are 23 ships total, with 19 for the full summer season serving food, from early morning to late at night. We may not be able to satisfy everyone but can't be complacent. Our goal is to enrich everyone's experience." With a contract that could go for 10 years, they will make believers of us all (you had us at exclusive beer and toffee popcorn).

Connie Adams/September 2019


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