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Climate Pledge Arena

The culinary side of things

"Climate Pledge Arena is the most progressive, responsible, and sustainable arena in the world. In partnership with Amazon, Climate Pledge Arena will serve as a long-lasting reminder of the urgent need for climate action. It might sound ambitious-but that's the point. This arena is named after The Climate Pledge, not a corporation." They're serious.

And it is ambitious. There's lots of information about how the building will operate and how big companies with physical infrastructures should reduce carbon emissions. But what about the food? What's happening there? Way more than you realize.

Not two pictures, it's the lobby with a model Alaska Airlines plane and the escalator that goes by moving pictures. Cool.

Despite the immense project, when you talk with Molly De Mers, executive chef for Delaware North at Climate Pledge Arena, what you see and hear is excitement. "This is a group of people who want to search for the right answers and make the right decisions. Very rarely in history do the right people and the right thing align to make the impossible possible. We have the right people, the right financial backing, the right character to make this happen. And it's not just about saying what we'll do. We are 'thin-slicing' which means absolutely everything is being looked at. We're changing the way things are thought about. Garbage bags? How does that impact our message? Latex gloves? We've found compostable. There will be no aerosol cans. Decisions are generally geared toward the financial side of things; ours are geared toward meeting The Climate Pledge."

Climate Pledge Arena operator Oak View Group and foodservice partner Delaware North created an umbrella brand for the unique food and beverage offerings called The Climate Collective, which will include suites, clubs, restaurants, Market Places (not called concessions here). Private events will be held in the Verizon Lounge, Space Needle, and other exclusive spaces. Some of the restaurants include Lil Woody's, Just Poké, Din Tai Fung, Metropolitan Grill, Ballard Pizza, Hot Cakes, and Shaquille O'Neal's Big Chicken.

Chef Molly De Mers, courtesy of Delaware North

 Molly's team will utilize everything, right down to making gremolata from carrot tops. They will feed guests seasonally and will pickle, jam, and can fresh foods to use later. Seventy-five percent of what they purchase will come from within a 300-mile radius. They have a growing chamber, curing chamber for single muscle protein, will make their own cheese, and pasta. "Amazon will audit us on everything we do, and we welcome that," says Molly. "From the outset, the goal has been to do better for our fans and the planet. It's contagious; we're all in this together to make it happen.

"There are really two things that have to happen to make this work: 1) traditional sustainability, using natural resources wisely, and 2) financial sustainability-it's not going to work if it's not lucrative." They're using Harbor Foods which is the largest independent distributor in the Northwest. "They've been in the trenches with me since day one, going over every ingredient. We're also working with Puget Sound Food Hub, a farmers cooperative in Skagit Valley. We're offering them a platform so they can grow. We want to work with minority- and women-owned businesses to represent the community."

They won't use anything that's a catch phrase, like 'cage free' or 'free range.' "These mean nothing. People think because we're sustainable, there won't be beef. My belief is that we don't need to stop eating beef, we need to eat it responsibly. We've formed a partnership with Royal Ranch in Royal City, Washington. And that beef will be served throughout the Arena, not just in the suites." In August, Royal Ranch launched its carbon-neutral, climate-conscious beef. Organic chicken will come from Draper Valley from the Skagit Valley. "We're working with our restaurant partners on progressive menus - there are no secrets between us. We have plant-based options like Impossible Chili Fries, street tacos, edamame hummus with roasted beet, along with stomach-filling items like the Kraken potato-Hasselback potatoes with Beecher's cheese fondue and bacon pop rocks. It's a delicate balance because a lot of people want traditional sport venue foods like hot dogs and nachos. We'll have them, but our nachos will use local Juanita's chips, cheese made in-house, and Royal Ranch beef."

Bacon Pop Rock Potato, courtesy of Delaware North

They're changing boundaries. Going to a music concert? You just might want to have dinner at the Arena before the show. There for a game and want to grab a burger? There will be two hot locations that are 'walk out' - the Amazon idea of letting people pick up what they want and walk away, being charged electronically. There will also be self-check-out locations. "We're looking for any way we can improve the guest experience," says Molly. "We push ourselves constantly, but greatness requires being uncomfortable." Another way they're pushing boundaries is working with large companies like Pepsi and Coors as sponsors. "To create change, big companies have to come on this journey. They've committed to single-use plastic by 2024, earlier than anticipated. They've bought into The Climate Pledge." The Pledge, founded by Amazon and Global Optimism, is a commitment from companies globally to be net zero carbon by 2040.

In this time of staff shortages, they're in the process of hiring 800 team members from scratch. "Staff is a sustainability issue. On a large project like this, about 68% of the opening staff will leave within a year. We've got to do better than this. We have to have a humane work environment. We idolize workaholics and people burn out. We have to change the narrative. Every single person has families and dreams; that has to be acknowledged. Our salaried team all has that view. As the first female executive chef to open a major professional sports arena, I feel a great responsibility. That has to be acknowledged but we also have to get beyond the idea that 'she either got the job or didn't get the job because she's a woman.' Companies are missing great growth and leadership if they overlook women. There are six salaried chefs working for me, all are male, all in agreement that things need to change now. They have great empathy. My leadership style is to be the dumbest person in the room. I want to bring in the smartest people and listen to them.

Sable fish, courtesy of Delaware North

"We have all worked for this. Climate Pledge Arena is the platform we've been waiting for to be able to honor the planet and feed the masses. Being a leader in multiple ways is a great bar to set, letting people know this can happen. This project feels different, we're all in. And we already have a 'Year 2' file!"

Connie Adams/October 2021

Click here to read Molly's background.

Climate Pledge Arena
334 1st Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

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