Sell some peanuts and Cracker Jack

Editor’s Note: Every once in a while we like to lighten things up and look at the subplots, and the underpinnings of the working world. In this piece, reporter Alec Depcrynksi tags along with a vendor at a Richmond Braves game.

We start at the Flamingo Joe’s base camp, the snow cone stand near the entrance of the Diamond.

Patrick Hammerbach puts shaved ice into a cup, puts the cup in his tray, and then tops it with one of five flavors. He fills the back row of his tray with Cracker Jacks.

Flamingo Joe’s vendors wear a standard company-issued t-shirt, either blue or green. After that requirement, it appears, there are no requirements. I’m here tagging along with Patrick Hammerbach, trying to learn what it’s like to be a stadium food vendor, and trying to learn what sort of sales tips he might have for the rest of us.

Aramark, which manages Flamingo Joe’s at the Diamond, hires 8-12 vendors per game. Dan Smith, who handles operations for Aramark in Richmond, said that the number varies based on projected attendance and weather.

At a typical Braves game, Aramark and Flamingo Joe’s sell 650 snow cones ($3 a pop), 500 cotton candy sticks ($3.50), and 200 funnel cakes ($4).

They also sell around 600 18-ounce draft beers at $5 and about 700 16-ounce plastic bottled beers for $6.

Tack on around 800 hot dogs for good measure ($2.50).

To give you an idea of scale, Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets, sells just under 20,000 hot dogs per game. Yankee Stadium sells even more, clocking in at just about 30,000 dogs per game, tops in the major leagues.

Tonight, Hammerbach will make 33 cents for each item he sells. He works on commission, so there’s no time to waste.

“You ready?” he says, fully aware that I’m still gathering my bearings.

And off he goes, gliding effortlessly through the aisles. His steps are fluid. There’s no hint of wasted motion. No inkling of awkwardness.

He’s still outrunning me.

He works his way in and out of the aisles, weaving around, going up and down and across and back to make sure that everyone in the stadium sees him.

Of course the fans hear him, too.

“SNOW cones HERE, GET cha SNOW cones HERE!”

Hammerbach has that typical ballpark vendor call, where the tone and the volume of the voice shift up then down then back up. It’s loud and high pitched at first, then softer and low pitched for the “cones,” then back up to a loud shout to finish it off, with the volume rising to the end of the word.

His aim is to get everyone’s attention at least for a second. Then, he said, the products tend to sell themselves.

His first customer is a child whose dad pays for a snow cone. For the rest of the night snow cones are the hot item, and Hammerbach is going back to re-up before I can make it to the other side of the stadium.

“Thought I lost you back there,” he says, grinning as he refills his snow cone cups and gets ready to head back out.

He said that he prefers selling soda. “That tray is lighter than this tray.”

Water is always a good seller, he said, especially in the summer or on a particularly hot day.

I asked Hammerbach some questions about the living he makes working for Flamingo Joe’s.

“Saturday’s game was great. I made $105 on commission, which is pretty huge.”

Flamingo Joe’s employees get a flat fee for set-up and clean-up. They can also receive tips, but at small market venues like the Diamond, these are few and far between. And, as BizSense reported last week, tips aren’t exactly at an all-time high.

Hammerbach prefers working at the Hampton Coliseum, in his hometown of Hampton.

The Hampton Coliseum has the luxury of air conditioning. Walking around in the heat of the bleachers, sweating profusely, pants sticking to my legs, I have to agree that some A/C would make this job a bit more bearable.

Second, there are more events, so anything from Monster Trucks to the Circus can be in town for a given night. Hammerbach said that even when they have a small event like arena racing, “the crowd can be 1,000 people… about double what we have out there, right?” he says, pointing to the barren stadium.

I can’t argue with him. The Braves’ average attendance this season is 3,875. But that number is an all-time low for the franchise. And looking out at the crowd, the Diamond seems bleak and empty, a sad truth for a team that is about to be moved to Gwinnett, GA.

It’s a far cry from the mid-90’s, when stars like Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones kept the stadium packed. The franchise high for attendance was set in 1996, when it reached 8,065.

When the Braves leave, Hammerbach said it won’t affect him too much.

“I work mostly at the Hampton venues anyways, so I’m just going to continue with that.”

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