An upgrade, perhaps? The Bucs used to serve meals in a hallway and eat them in the locker room
Michael Beadles, executive chef at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' vast new training facility, was prepared for the team's first sudden dietary shift. He had been warned in advance that a looming game means a concerted and collective effort to "fuel up."
And yet Beadles was still surprised by what he saw.
It was his first week in charge of feeding 89 very large and very active men, and he was still getting a feel for the specific details. On the morning of the day the Buccaneers were to board a plane for Jacksonville, Beadles' breakfast was an exercise in protein-loading.
"The day before the game everybody's diets changed," said Beadles. "The breakfast that we do on travel day is heavy on high-protein items. So we did a steak-and-egg breakfast. They warned us that would happen and so we were ready, but I was still shocked at the change. We probably went through a pound of pasta where we normally go through 10. They were going through the proteins instead."
The Buccaneers are in the second week of operating at their unmatched new facility, the second week of eating up to three meals a day together in the midst of a work day, and Beadles is getting a strong grasp on the team's dietary patterns. Some of it is complicated by very individual needs and vagaries; fortunately, Beadles and his staff have been given every tool they need to meet those needs.
Backing the wide and comfortable dining room at the new facility is a state-of-the-art kitchen that might look at home on a reality cooking show. Beadles, who worked for Levy Restaurants for seven years at Raymond James Stadium before moving just down the road to the new facility, was brought on after the planning and construction of that kitchen. Still, he couldn't be happier with how it was designed; it is both appealing to the eye and wonderfully functional.
"It's gorgeous," he said. "It's just beautiful. It's a nicer kitchen than what we had at the stadium. Every place you go into, there's something you want to fix or change. At this place, the list was three items. Most places it would be three or four pages. They thought everything through very well."
The kitchen at the new facility is certainly an improvement over One Buc Place, mostly because there was no kitchen at One Buc Place. The food was catered and trucked in several times a day and warmed over sternos. The serving area was a hallway, the same tight space that led from the practice field to the locker room. The dining room was the locker room, or anywhere a player could grab a seat and balance a plate on his knees.
Levy Restaurants, the same company that feeds the fans at the stadium, handles the Bucs' daily diet now. Their meals are served out of a professional cafeteria setup at the east end of the dining room. The dining room itself is big enough to comfortably hold 14 tables of eight seats each and its appointed as nicely as the rest of the facility. The walls are paneled in oak, the ceilings are 20 feet high and the room is accented everywhere in Buccaneer colors. The south wall lets in a lot of light through two levels of windows that face the practice fields. It's upscale dining, even of many of the patrons come in wearing sweaty t-shirts.
The first food service was held on Sunday, August 20, the day before the first practice at the new facility. Players who had come by the training room for treatment made the short walk down the hall, past the locker room and players' lounge, to walk through the big wooden double doors of the dining room. Beadles was there to see their reaction.
"The first day they came in here, watching their faces as they came in was great," he said. "They were looking at the tables, the walls, the carpet and you could tell it all made a difference to them. I know what they're coming from, and they deserve this.
"We want them always to be comfortable here. I kind of look at this as their second home, and I'm their chef."
Beadles and his staff have been given some basic guidelines for their dietary selections. Grilled chicken is a must at every meal, as is a deli tray and a salad. Meals need to vary in terms of how heavy they are depending upon the schedule. A lunch before an afternoon practice should lean toward lighter choices, like a chicken stir fry and the ever present pasta station. If no practice is looming, Beadles can offer some heavier choices, like the smoked brisket that was extremely popular at a recent serving. He has ribs, catfish and fried chicken on the menu for some upcoming heavier meals.
"Sometimes they want meals they can really fill up on, some real down-home cooking," said Beadles. "They want something that will stick to their ribs."
Most of the meals are designed to feed 120 to 130 people, including players, coaches and football staff. Beadles draws up a weekly menu and has it approved by Paul Kelly, the assistant to the head coach-football operations. There are a variety of choices at every meal, and special teams are served up for those who request them.
"Some of it is just personal taste," he said. "That's the biggest challenge because you have so many people who are on certain diets. So it's just getting used to their personal tastes. It's a lot more egg-whites, say, than whole-egg omelets. Bananas have gone over well, but nobody eats the oranges. These are the things we're finding out."
The kitchen crew has no problem responding to individual needs, in part due to the way the requests have been presented. That has been a pleasant surprise for Beadles.
"One of the differences I've found is in how these guys are perceived in the public and how they really are," he said. "You might think they would be aloof, but that's not what I've found. This is like an extension of their home. The players will make requests, but they're all reasonable. They might want a turkey alternative for breakfast meats because they don't eat pork, something like that. But every request I've had has been very nice. They say, 'Could you do this?' or 'Would it be possible?' There's no demanding, there's no attitude. It just feels like they're comfortable here."
For sure, they are. It's certainly a more comfortable environment to serve a meal than a hallway, a nicer spot to take in that meal than a locker room. The change has been so sudden that a Buccaneer player or coach will occasionally marvel at the new surroundings and remember – perhaps not so fondly – where they came from.
"One of the coaches made a joke to another coach in passing the other day," said Beadles. "The coach said that, as punishment for a bad practice, they should make the players eat in the hallway some day."
Fortunately, those days are long gone.