SSA is the vendor of choice for many venues across the U.S.
A day out with the family at a zoo, aquarium, or museum wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the regional fare. You’re in luck if SSA is the purveyor of the tasty meals and treats during your day of fun.
That’s because after almost 50 years in business, SSA continues to impress with its culinary, operations, and catering expertise. It’s an industry-leading food and beverage provider, offering delicious options at many zoos, aquariums, museums, and marinas across the United States. SSA is also an industry leader in retail and merchandising services, with about 50 percent of its business coming from its retail division.
Kevin McNicholas had always worked in concessions. He started his own company—KM Concessions—after the business he was working for let him go. His new venture sold food, but mostly retail, for the Denver Bears. But the company’s first zoo contract with the Denver Zoo changed the game for the small business.
“My father laid the foundation for this company, and we’ve continued its legacy,” said Shannon Fitzgerald, Chief People Officer at SSA.
“This company was founded on the idea of a handshake. No one is exactly sure how the business started, but we do know that there wasn’t an actual contract in place for the first couple of years. We run that aspect a little differently today, but that concept still holds true: if we give you our word, we’ll see it though and stand behind what we commit to.”
Today’s SSA grew out of KM Concession into a full-service business that operates in over 50 locations across the country.
Unique Concepts Keep the Company Rolling
SSA’s guaranteed word is one of five concepts born during McNicolas’s tenure that Fitzgerald continues to see in the company today.
In a company that is run by the second generation, it’s also no surprise that family plays a big part in its culture.
“Some of us here are family by blood, but we’re also family by being a part of this team. These two big families are the center of everything. Our dad ensured that was never lost,” Fitzgerald commented.
It’s easy to see how ‘people at the soul of the company’ is another important tenant to SSA’s culture. Its autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit, too, ranks high in importance.
“Our dad was an entrepreneur. He took risks on certain deals and clients. He always promoted that entrepreneurial mentality. Now that Sean [McNicholas, President and CEO] has taken over the role, he continues that legacy.”
These five concepts set the foundation for what SSA’s clients want from the brand: exceptional food and service.
“SSA was built on a foundation of quality programming. In recent years, we’ve been working hard and fast to redefine what a quality culinary program is. A tour of SSA operations will yield some of the most cutting-edge improvements to quality in our industry. Our culinary direction is smart, functional, and exactly what our guests desire.”
“We are really good at food service, and it just so happens that not only does the zoo industry look for that, but they like our company,” said Travis Kight, Chief Executive Chef for the company.
“We believe that ‘good enough’ is the enemy of great and that healthy and sustainable ingredients make a significant difference in the quality of products that are crafted in our kitchens. We want to put flavors first while improving our animal welfare, food waste, and reducing our eco footprint. We want our guests to walk-away from their experience and feel like they had a memorable culinary experience.”
Providing appealing, healthy food items can be a bit of a challenge at a cultural attraction. Not because SSA isn’t capable, but because consumers in these atmospheres may not necessarily be looking to stick to healthy routines during their fun-filled days out.
“We understand the need for a healthier lifestyle approach and we hear that healthier items should be offered, but our data demonstrates that less than 10 percent of people buy salads, fresh fruit, or low carb options. To answer that, we believe there’s a misconception of what healthy actually is. You can have a tasty burger, you just need ingredients like a whole wheat bun, organic veggies, and lean grass-fed beef.”
Kight’s commitment to quality ingredients and healthy options also relates to how each restaurant is run.
“We are one of the most sustainable service companies in the industry, before sustainability was even a part of mainstream conversations. It was a big part of our clients’ culture, especially at zoos or aquariums, and we adapted to thier needs.”
For example, SSA has been part of Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program, RSPO, Quarters for conservation, a leader in plastic reduction and have 2 farms, 2 roof top gardens and 1 Aqua Ponics Garden. The list, of course, goes on.
All of these concepts and strategies combine into some truly amazing dishes. One location offers a trending Poke dish, which you can partake in on a picnic bench with your feet in the sand. The company also recently rolled out a new cafe concept in Miami called Nourish 305, that was created by our VP of Culinary Nick Rado.
“It’s definitely a concept we’ll be bringing to other locations,” Kight said. “It’s a concept based on quality ingredients, local approach and speed of service. The ingredients all laid out for the consumer, its high-quality flat breads with different sauces and toppings that are flash fired. The curry chicken and chickpea pizza is delicious, and the way it’s all prepared with freshness and quality, you can’t go wrong.”
Our goal is to continue to make connetions with our guests, partners and the community through our Culinary efforts.
It’s easy to see that if you’re lucky enough to visit a location where SSA is running Food service, you’ll definitely have a delicious meal and experience.
Service Systems Associates (SSA) is an award-winning visitor amenities company. We partner with Cultural Attractions across the country to deliver innovative ideas that sustainably grow visitor participation and develop competitive advantage through powerful customer experiences.
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