VIDEO: Behind the scenes of Rogers Arena’s changes

Canucks Sports and Entertainment assumes control of Rogers Arena’s hospitality operations and invests $10 million in renovations

The Vancouver Canucks’ collapse in 2013-14 has led to big changes both on and off the ice. Since the season’s end, the team has turned over one-third of its playing lineup while introducing new head coach Willie Desjardins, general manager Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden.

There have also been big changes behind the scenes. Canucks Sports and Entertainment has invested $10 million to undertake the biggest renovation in the 19-year history of Rogers Arena and is moving its hospitality operations in-house for the first time.

Canucks Sports and Entertainment assumed control of the arena’s hospitality operations on July 1. “It’s been good,” says COO Victor de Bonis. “It’s amazing when you bring people together and they work for the Canucks, the energy and excitement they bring and how much of a difference it is.”

When the arena opened for business in 1995, a 20-year agreement was signed with food-service provider Ogden Corp. to run the concessions. (Rival company Aramark acquired Ogden in 2000.) The Canucks made the decision in March of this year to terminate the contract with one year remaining.

“Over the years, we’ve always wanted to have control—have all the people that are servicing our fans under one roof, working for the Canucks,” explains de Bonis, who has been with the team since 1994. “We wanted to be responsible for delivering the service to the front line directly.”

The race is on to complete the renovations and upgrades before opening night on October 11. A new Loge Club will feature 13 six-person mini-suites with premium theatre seating and chef-attended food service throughout the game. Back-end improvements include four new kitchens and over 1.5 kilometres of new state-of-the-art beer lines.

For the average fan, the most noticeable changes will come on the food and beverage side.

Thanks to B.C.’s new liquor laws, hard liquor will now be available throughout the arena, rather than just in the club section and executive suites. An expanded concourse at the west end of the building will feature wine on tap, more beer options and 30 per cent more washrooms. Hawkers will bring beer to fans in their seats for the first time in arena history.

The Canucks organization is also taking advantage of the Aquilini Group’s acquisition of the Toptable Group of restaurants to help bring fresher, higher-quality foods to Rogers Arena patrons under the direction of new executive chef Robert Bartley.

Rogers Arena executive vice-president and general manager Michael Doyle, who now also serves as president of Toptable, says the executive team from Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar was actively involved in Bartley’s hiring. For the last few months, Blue Water’s chef has been working closely with Bartley to bring him up to speed on the best products and purveyors to be found in the local market.

“They create a team, working together collaboratively,” adds de Bonis. “You won’t see a Blue Water Cafe in Rogers Arena because that’s a Blue Water experience, but you’ll see collaboration. To have the ability to pick up the phone and talk about products and different menu items and recipes—it’s a big thing for us to have that.”

Chef Robert Bartley emphasizes that the evolution of the food service will take time. His team is aiming to introduce more than 180 new menu items this season with the initial focus on the basics, like great hot dogs and fresh popcorn.

Treats from Toptable’s Thierry Chocolaterie could be on offer in the near future. “The French pastry chef is amazing,” de Bonis enthuses. “We may, down the road, see a Thierry kiosk in Rogers Arena that will be selling the macarons and some of his products,” adds Doyle.