This week Washington State Ferries announced it's giving its food and concessions contract to Centerplate, the company that, among many other things, runs the concessions at Safeco Field. Which is a wonky governmental way of saying: Ferry food is about to get way more interesting.
It's too soon to say exactly what will be served on board the nation's largest ferry fleet. But Diana Evans of Centerplate says the approach will be similar to the one at Safeco: Use local brands whenever possible. Centerplate's formal proposal name checks Beecher's cheese, Uli's sausage, Hempler's meat, and wine from Stimson Estate Cellars. Partnering with a local chef—a la Ethan Stowell at Safeco or Tom Douglas's Alaska Airlines meals—isn't out of the question, either.
Beyond incorporating Northwest brands (and definitely more local beer, both draft and in cans), Evans says the main goal is simply cutting down the wait times with efficient galleys, more grab-and-go food, and more places to get rung up.
Some new food will show up on ferries by mid June, with more specifics to come in the intervening weeks. But developing a full menu, says Evans, will take much longer.
There are a lot of logistics to contend with. Centerplate has to change out equipment (they'll be testing a flatbread pizza that can be baked on an oven that works on the electrical system of a Jumbo Mark II class ferry) and factor in the safety regulations that come with preparing food on a rocking boat. In other words, no dishes that require extensive knifework, and no fryers that might splash hot oil everywhere.
The company handles the concessions for the Massachusetts Steamship Authority, which serves places like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard; Centerplate staff that work with those ships flew across the country and rode every class of vessel in Washington's ferry fleet in the name of research. Centerplate will also handle concessions at the Anacortes ferry terminal.
Unlike the crowds at a ballpark, ferry riders get on board for a variety of reasons. "Some people are taking the boat every day, their head is down and they want their coffee good—and hot," says Evans. But one person's commute is another person's memorable tourism experience. Either way, says Evans, "the food and drinks should be part of that sense of departure you get."