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Staff file Photo / The Chattanooga Trade Center in downtown Chattanooga is outsourcing its food services for the first time in its 36-year history.

Nearly four decades after its opening in downtown Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Convention Center has outsourced its food and banquet services for the first time, to a Chicago-based vendor that specializes in convention food services.

Levy Premium Food Service was chosen to take over the handling of meals, concessions and other food operations after submitting the winning bid for the work last fall.

"We operated our own food and beverage services since we opened, which is unusual for most convention centers of our size," said Mike Shuford, executive director for the trade center, in a phone interview. "But the COVID-19 pandemic made it very hard to staff these operations on our own, so we decided to hire a firm that has done this at other facilities for years."

The Carter Street Corp., the nonprofit agency that operates the convention center, put the food service contract up for bids last September and selected Levy for the seven-year contract after receiving multiple bids from similar vendors. Shuford said most of the hundreds of part-time workers hired for short-term roles in cooking and serving banquets and other convention events have been hired for similar jobs with Levy Food Services "at the same or even more pay."

Before the pandemic cutbacks in conventions, the trade center booked more than $4 million of banquet events a year, Shuford said.

When the trade center opened in 1985, the Carter Street Corp. solicited food and beverage providers to offer the service, but the new facility without any track record attracted few bidders, Shuford said. After the initial construction came in under budget, the Carter Street Corp. agreed to use some of its funds to equip the kitchen and handle the banquet services on its own.

"Things worked great until COVID hit us a couple of years ago," he said. "With fewer bookings, finding enough workers when we did have major events became very difficult."

Levy Premium Food Service provides similar food at the Georgia World Center in Atlanta and Titans Stadium in Nashville, among many other accounts across the nation. The new contract became effective Jan. 1, and Shuford said "so far it's worked out well."

Contract Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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