Centerplate secures key catering contracts

The Indiana Convention Center, the Indianapolis Zoo and White River State Park have agreed to transfer their catering contracts to Connecticut-based Centerplate Inc., a move that clears the way for Centerplate to purchase locally based Crystal Catering. Crystal, central Indiana’s largest caterer, had held all those contracts.

Jack and Dan Bayt founded Crystal in 1987 and sold it to locally based Marsh Supermarkets Inc. in 1995. They were in talks to buy back the company after Florida-based Sun Capital Partners bought Marsh in 2006, but those negotiations fell apart and the Bayts left the firm. Crystal Catering had revenue of $19 million for 2007 and employed 425 full-time and 875 part-time workers.

Centerplate has been the caterer at the Indiana Convention Center since the mid-1990s. However, when CIB redid the contract in the summer of 2006, it chose Crystal over Centerplate for a contract that starts this June. Because of that loss, Centerplate notified the state earlier this month that it planned to lay off 219 workers.

Crystal’s convention center contract included a clause allowing it to be nullified if the company was sold. Despite that clause, the Capital Improvement Board, which oversees the convention center, voted Monday to transfer the contract to Centerplate.

CIB Chairman Bob Grand said the board and its staff didn’t want to go through the bidding again because of the workload associated with opening Lucas Oil Stadium and planning for the convention center expansion.

“Our staff is taxed to the max,” Grand said. “That is not something they could get done.”

Marsh and Centerplate officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment, but leaders of several local venues said they agreed to the change because Centerplate officials assured them that current on-site Crystal employees would keep their jobs.

The catering contract for the theater-side of the Murat Centre managed by Live Nation has also been assigned to Centerplate. Sources said the deal may also include contracts at the Indiana State Museum and NCAA headquarters. A spokesman for the Indiana State Museum said Crystal Catering was still its vendor. A message left with an NCAA spokesman was not returned.

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