For Eagles fans looking forward to this Sunday’s season opener, the focus will be on the players, the coaches, and the game. But what they might not realize is that there’s a large and complex behind the scenes effort that keeps the organization running — including a full kitchen staff tasked with cooking breakfast, lunch, and even dinner for everyone from the athletes to the ground crew, to the owner, to Philly’s favorite announcer.
Imagine feeding the entire Eagles organization from a 3-foot long flattop grill and a deli case the size of an ice chest. That’s how things went up until about a year ago when a kitchen remodel brought about a round of change within the Eagles organization.
Today, a kitchen staff of 11, led by Senior Chef Manager Jason Buniak, Executive Chef Gabriel Nesmith, and long-time Sous Chef, Eugene “PeeWee” Williford, keep everyone from the players to the grounds crew fed day-in and day-out, 12-months a year. Each are employees of FLIK Hospitality, a high-end food service provider contracted with the Eagles as well as the Bears, Browns, Giants, and Jets.
With the season opener just days away, the kitchen is in full swing and the cafeteria is fully stocked feeding a front office building staff of about 200 people, 53 players, a 10 man practice squad, and about 35-40 coaching staff in addition to all of the football operations staff. In all, probably about 400 people, explained Buniak.
“We work directly with the head nutritionists,” Buniak said. “He gives us specs on what he’s looking for on dietary needs. We do a lot of protein. A lot of carbs. We base our menus on pre-practice meals and post practice meals. They eat different things at different times of the day, whether they’re rebuilding or they’re recuperating, or fueling up for an upcoming game or practice.
They’ll go through 400-500 pounds of chicken in a week, depending on specials. If that’s too big of a number to digest, try this. In one day’s lunch service, the organization will crush four cases of wings. That’s 160 pounds of chicken wings, devoured in two hours.
As far as the orders the Eagles’ kitchen spends about $30-40k a week in food and supplies shipped in from Albert’s Organics, United Natural Foods, and Performance Food Group.
“Alberts has a minimum delivery of $500,” said Buniak. “I make that in just milk.”
They also go through “a ton of fruit,” (quite possibly literally), explained Nesmith. That’s because smoothies are big with this Eagles crew, and the kitchen can go through about 15 cases of pineapple, 20 cases of strawberries, and 25 cases of blueberries in a week — not to mention the grapes, melons, and watermelons.
Interestingly, there’s a bit of an intimidation factor in the front office — nobody wants to be the guy holding up the line at the smoothie station.
As for the kitchen crew, these guys face down some of the biggest appetites in the city.
Tim Lopez, the 1st Cook, and Buniak’s go-to grill guy knows everyone’s order by heart.
“Tim’s one employee I couldn’t live without,” Buniak said. “He memorizes every player’s order. He knows the guys who eats four eggs, versus six eggs, versus 12 eggs. Guys walk in, and say, ‘Tim I’ll have my regular,’ or ‘the Connor Barwin,’ or ‘the Fletcher Cox.’ So whoever the player is they’d rather have what Fletcher has on a regular day.”
“It’s about adaptability,” said Nesmith. “The experiences that you learn throughout your journey no matter what place you’re cooking.
“This is a high intensity industry we have going on, feeding players, millionaires, even every single person here. There’s young folks, there’s old folks. The expectation, from a culinary standpoint is full scope.”
Though, back in the days when Andy Reid reigned, things looked much differently.
Eugene Williford, better known as PeeWee has been with the organization for 16 years and he’s seen it all.
“We came a long way,” Williford said. “15 years ago, people was eating healthy, but it wasn’t really introduced like it is now. With Andy Reid it was the big boy stuff. We had junkfood Fridays… a lot of tacos.”
Now it’s different. And it’s better for the guys.
“Now by them eating healthier they can last the season,” Williford said. “With Andy Reid, it wasn’t a bad thing, but it was a lot of heavy stuff, and you know, towards the end of the season, it wears you down some. You gain a lot of weight eating cheesesteaks, ribs, chicken, hoagies, so it’s better now.”
Today, the players are into the program, Williford said.
“They eat the healthy stuff. The grilled chicken, brown rice, the vegetables. We roast, we steam, and they’re on board with that. It’s a good thing.”