After two seasons, there still is no Black-owned business or product inside the Minnesota Twins’ publicly-owned downtown ballpark, which is partly financed by Hennepin County sales taxes.
There are Black-owned companies “who can provide the Twins with quality services, quality products, but still we are trying to figure out what is it going to take to have that,” says Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) President Lea Hargett. Black-owned businesses “need the opportunity” to work with the Twins and other large corporations, she adds.
“They’ve got to open up the network,” she points out. “It can’t be the same old small group that they always do business with.”
Hargett says that her organization has been working this year with Twins officials to help identify qualified Black-owned firms that possibly could do business with the team. She said team officials told her that the Twins had tried working with other Black business associations in the past but with no success.
“What we were able to do is sit down with the Twins, and we assessed and identified what they were looking for,” she recalls. “Then we would go out in the marketplace to our constituents and our members and know how to select companies that they [the Twins] would consider doing business with.”
The MBCC president and other members of her organization met with Bud Hanley, the Twins purchasing manager, this past spring. “We presented to them four companies” out of 37 local Black-owned firms as possibilities for the Twins, Hargett says. As a result, she believes the relationship between the MBCC and the Twins “is beginning to develop the way that we expected.”
“The way we basically do [business] here is on demand — we get a demand from the organization that we need to get a certain product,” explains Hanley. “Then it is my job to go out and buy that product at the best price, best quality, and the best time when we need it. I go to anybody who possibly can produce that.
“I go out and collect bids, and we always include minority-owned businesses as we can. The hurdle is knowing who they are,” Hanley says.
The Alden Group, Inc., a Black-owned consumer products, manufacturing and marketing company based in North Minneapolis, was one of the four firms the MBCC identified, says Hargett.
According to Alden CEO Donald Bryant, his company hopes to soon sign a contract to be at the Twins ballpark next season.
“They definitely have expressed interest” in having the stadium chefs use B. Smith Olive Oil, which his company sells around the country, Bryant recently told the MSR. He has met with Delaware North Minnesota Sportservice General Manager Peter Spike, and says he “is looking forward” to working with the national food and beverage concessions firm soon.
“We are excited about it. It is a great thing for the Twins, and obviously it is great for us,” says Bryant.
“We are either looking for service companies to come in and support, or looking for products we can introduce into the market and be sold by the representatives of Delaware North,” says Spike. Delaware North has an exclusive concessions contract with the Twins.
“We are a tenant of the Twins,” Spike continues, “but we play a very large role inside the ballpark. Part of our responsibility is to put out a great product to give people a reason to come down to the ballpark aside from watching baseball.”
Ken Davis Barbecue Sauce was added to the ballpark’s offerings this past season. “I think Ken Davis and the partnership with the Turkey to Go was a great product launch for us. It was well received by our fan base,” notes Spike.
However, an MSR article earlier this year (“Black-owned business finally makes it into Twins concessions,” June 9) erroneously reported that Ken Davis was the first Black-owned product at the new stadium. The newspaper later learned that the business had previously been sold to a non-Black firm.
If Bryant’s firm does secure a contract, it will be with Delaware North, not the Twins, however. “I think our focus is to really bring successful products like the Ken Davis barbeque into the ballpark,” adds Spike.
“If they happen to be minority-owned, that’s great for the community and great for those small businesses who are trying to make their operations grow.
“What I look for is a business plan to make sure if the product is established, or at least has a solid foundation,” Spike points out. “We definitely would love anyone who has, whether it is a service they can provide or a product they can sell underneath the Delaware North umbrella, we are more than happy to look at it.
“We have not necessarily found the right fit [with a Black business] other than bringing in the Ken Davis Barbeque Sauce. We are looking to expand that.”
Spike adds that not everyone “that walks through the door will get a thumbs-up” automatically, even if it is a Black-owned business or a firm owned by other people of color. But he says his company is committed to helping “in the development of the community around [the Twins stadium] anytime we can bring in a local establishment, if it makes sense, inside the games.” He encourages Black-owned firms to contact him through the Twins.
Twins President David St. Peter says that the team wants Black-owned firms or those owned by other people of color to contact them “so that we can…dialogue.”
When asked if the Twins should help foster Black economic development, especially since the ballpark is just over the bridge from North Minneapolis, Bryant responds, “Yes, I do feel that [such] organizations have a responsibility, especially those organizations that are built with public funds… I do feel there is a responsibility for consideration to at least have the right players at the table.”
He believes the Twins have “a desire to work with local companies number one, and minority-owned companies number two.”
There are at least a dozen areas in which Black-owned businesses could seek contract opportunities with the Twins, Hargett believes, “such as apparel, audio-video equipment, janitorial supplies, sports equipment, furniture, toilet supplies, packaging, light bulbs, industrial tools — a list of things like that.”
Twins Public Affairs and Community Fund Executive Director Kevin Smith says that outside of operating the ballpark and the baseball operations, “We are really a small business.” For example, the team’s purchasing department consists of only Hanley and one other person, he explains.
“We’re easy to approach to find out information,” says Smith. “There is a misconception out there that we are untouchable or we’re so big, when actually we are relatively easy to contact.”
If a Black-owned business wants to pursue vendor opportunities, “It’s simple — they can contact me,” Hanley affirms. He regularly attends business association meetings such as the MBCC, and the team hosted the Midwest Minority Suppliers and Diversity Council meeting at the ballpark in September.
Black-owned firms “create jobs in our community,” says Hargett, “and we make a difference in economics in our community. It is through our small businesses that we can address a lot of the issues that affect our community.” She firmly believes that the Twins and Black businesses working together would be beneficial to both parties.
“So opportunities to work with the Twins or any other company are very empowering to us in making sure that our community remains viable.”
For more vendor information, call Bud Hanley with the Twins at 612-659-3441 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.