New food vendor for Sevierville convention center

Jun. 12, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

After representatives from the two competing companies gave final statements, the Sevierville Public Building Authority acted Monday to replace current convention center food and beverage contractor, Centerplate, with Ovations Food Services.

Centerplate had provided food and beverage services for the facility since its inception. With its contract up for renewal this year, Centerplate was asking for a higher commission.

That, along with the perceived poor performance from Centerplate's first few years, caused the PBA to entertain proposals from other catering companies. In a 4-2 vote at Monday afternoon's meeting, the board awarded the contract to Ovations.

Before the vote, local Centerplate representative Mary Ellen Smith addressed the board, responding to issues its members had with Centerplate's performance, expectations and contractual requirements.

"Why, if our business has been so great, why have we asked to change our commission structure? Yes, we've had great success over the last three years ... we just need a little more money to cover our investment in this building," said Smith, reading from a prepared speech. "Please trust me when I tell you that this commission structure is what was needed to make this account successful for all parties concerned.

"You were also told that Centerplate was in violation of our current contract because we do not employ a full-time salesperson. ... You will see that no such requirement exists."

PBA chief financial officer Bob Moncrief responded, saying that verbal discussions had taken place between the two entities regarding a full-time salesperson for convention center operations, and that position had been promised. These talks occurred after early performance numbers were below expectations.

"When the revenue was below expectations, there was discussion between the two entities about Centerplate providing a salesperson to bolster that revenue," PBA spokesperson Bob Stahlke said Tuesday. "My understanding is that their overall performance in the first few years, including revenue, quality of food and menu choices, was below what convention center staff expected."

Smith, however, said that even if discussions about a full-time salesperson had taken place, that position was not in the final contract.

"I currently serve as the primary salesperson, with assistance from my office assistant, Carla," Smith said. "When the time is right, we will evaluate the need for a full-time salesperson."

David Bobo, director of the convention center, noted that he was pleased with Centerplate's current performance.

"At this point in time, I couldn't be happier with our food company," Bobo said. "I don't see a compelling reason to change food companies right now."

Charles Lawrence, vice president of business development for Ovations, also addressed the board at the meeting.

"We want to be here, we want to be your partner," Lawrence said. "We are definitely a firm that does everything we commit ourselves to doing."

After both sides were heard, PBA member George Seaton moved to award the contract to Ovations. When the motion was seconded, Vice Chair John McClure asked for a roll call vote among the present members.

The vote culminated in Chairman Joe Tarwater casting the fourth vote in favor of Ovations, against two opposed.

rhargett@themountainpress.com