At Columbia pools, a race to the food

July 18, 2002|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Not all the competition takes place in the pool in the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League. Concession stand managers for the 14 league teams are in a weekly race to satisfy the discerning palates of their Columbia clientele.

On Saturday mornings in the summer, thousands of people gather at Columbia's pools for the league's weekly swim meets - and they come hungry.

"We try to give the kids a little something for breakfast, but it's so early. They're usually not very hungry," said Diane Butler, parent of two who swim for River Hill's Pheasant Ridge Rapids team.

So swimmers and their families start eating almost as soon as they arrive at the pools, usually about 6:45 a.m. At some pools, you can dine on Belgian waffles with fresh fruit toppings and whipped cream, or begin your morning with a barbecued pulled beef sandwich.

Most teams sell hundreds of hot dogs, mountains of nachos and cases of soft drinks every Saturday. But some teams have expanded their menus to include specialty items such as imported coffee blends, loaded baked potatoes or grilled cheese sandwiches - hot off the barbecue grill.

"People say we have the best concession stand in the league," said Mary Metzler, concession stand manager for the Huntington Dolphins.

In addition to the standard items, the Dolphins' concession stand sells Frappuccinos topped with whipped cream and dusted with powdered cocoa; carrot sticks with dip; and fresh fruit. At a recent meet, Metzler sold 12 dozen doughnuts in just more than an hour.

Zulma Whiteford, one of the team managers for the Phelps Luck Snappers, said that as the league has expanded to include more than 2,200 swimmers, customers' expectations have increased and swim meet fare has become more elaborate. The Snappers sell barbecued pulled beef sandwiches for $2 each at home meets.

"It used to be just the hot dogs and the candy. We're way beyond that," Whiteford said. "You can get to some places where it's a full production; then you get to other pools and you're disappointed."

Steve Mormann, the father of two children who swim for the Thunder Hill Lightning team, spends two hours Friday evenings making the batter for the Belgian waffles he prepares poolside on Saturday mornings. He adds cinnamon, vanilla extract and super-fine sugar to a packaged waffle mix to make gallons of his batter.

The waffles, served with fresh fruit, syrup or whipped cream, are considered a bargain at $1.50 each. Mormann said he sells about 150 waffles each week.

"They hit the spot in the morning and give the swimmers lots of carbs [carbohydrates]," Mormann said.

Concession stand managers say that sales average from $800 to $1,200 a week. The money is used to support swim team activities.

Most concession stand managers acknowledge that their high sales volume on the weekends has as much to do with the atmosphere as the swimmers' appetites.

"We have a big community here and you run into everybody you know at the meets," Metzler said. "It's social time and what do you do when you socialize? You eat."

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