Independence Day Weekend, 2011 – on July 2, standing alone in a silent dawn, as if it were frozen in gripping anticipation, amidst empty picnic tables, colorful draping flags, and 37 tons of cold steel, Nick Nicora surveys a meticulously engineered set. To his right,
Juicy’s Outlaw Grill, the world’s largest, 20-foot tall, 100-foot long, 27 ton, fully self-contained barbeque grill, capable of cooking over 1,000 items simultaneously. And to his left, a 29-foot long Gradall Telehandler forklift, capable of hoisting over 6,000 pounds 42 feet into the air. In the cool of the morning, Nick contemplated the final details of a complex plan in which he and his team of experts would prepare, cook then hoist the world’s largest commercially available hamburger through a crowd of thousands of onlookers onto a giant, industrial scale more than 40-feet away. Nick intended to set a new world’s record that day with his partner in the attempt, Brett Enright, President at Juicy’s. Little did he know that the news of his 777 lb Behemoth burger would span the globe, trending on Twitter, Yahoo!, Bing, and Google, and broadcast on every major television network.
But, that’s not the beginning of this story.
Earlier this week, SND TV released a new documentary, featuring never-before-seen video footage of the making of the World’s Largest Commercially Available Hamburger, but that’s just part of the story.
The story of Nick Nicora began back stage of an entirely different set as production manager at Bill Graham Presents. While attending California State University, Chico, Nick worked his way through the ranks under San Francisco rock impresario, Bill Graham and thus was born his vision. He embarked on a journey that has evolved from operating a backstage catering business to becoming a partner at one of the country’s largest catering businesses, Ovations Fanfare, grossing over $60M annually. He didn’t achieve this accomplishment overnight; a focus on brand identity, strategic partnerships, and marketing are words Nick lives by.
Graham had previously operated the famous venues, the Fillmore West, and the Fillmore East, and later Fillmore Records. In 1980, Nick envisioned Fillmore Fingers, providing backstage catering services to all Bill Graham Presents concerts. Averaging 320 events per year, as well as providing concessions services at numerous facilities throughout the State of California that included concert, sports and entertainment venues, Fillmore Fingers became the exclusive location caterer for all movies and television shows filmed in Northern California.
Enter Ogden Foods, Inc. (now part of Pet, Inc.), a subsidiary of Ogden Corporation, a U.S. branded foods powerhouse. Graham, widely known for his monopolistic business practices, approached Ogden Foods to negotiate the sale of Fillmore Fingers in 1988. Earlier in the 1980′s, Graham raised controversy throughout California with “strong-arm” contracts to control on-campus entertainment venues at the University of California, then partnered with BASS Tickets (now Ticketmaster), raising ticketing fees to unprecedented levels. Nicora saw his vision moving in a different direction, and resigned as President at Fillmore Fingers in 1988 to form FanFare Enterprises, which would eventually become the recognized leader in the recreational and leisure food industry in California.
In 1988, Nicora and his business partner, Charles (“Charlie”) Neary launched FanFare Enterprises, opening its first show in San Diego, providing catering services for Rod Stewart, then Bob Dillan, and George Thoroughgood.
“We knew that if we were going to compete with the major players, we’d need a partner,” said Nicora, “so we met with every national food and beverage company in the country, until we found one that fit.”
But, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for duo. In fact, he and Neary sold Christmas trees to keep the business afloat during the winter of the company’s first year. Nick was determined to bring about a change in the food and beverage industry, so the two began exploring innovative ideas to set a higher standard. Their quest led them to a new concept. “We started the fresh off the grill concept – no one was doing that back then. We were selling fresh products before it was chic,” said Nicora during an exclusive interview with Stitches ‘n Dishes. FanFare later became one of the first companies to integrate Point of Sales (POS) systems at venues. “We were dealing with disks and data, while most others were filling out paper forms,” he said.
Specializing in family entertainment venues including fairgrounds, Nicora was successful in securing several long term master concessions contracts, becoming the largest fair food and beverage operator in the State of California, and FanFare became the gold standard in leisure foods in the state. “People just enjoyed having us in a room,” Nicora said as he reflected on the dynamic duo’s many presentations and proposals.
“We knew that if we were going to compete with the major players, we’d need a partner,” said Nicora, “so we met with every national food and beverage company in the country, until we found one that fit.” In 1991, Nicora and Neary, with a focus in food services brand marketing and sponsorships approached Kenneth Young, Todd Wickner, and Gary Horbath at Ovations with a partnership proposal, and the group formed Ovations FanFare, which operates today as Ovations Food Services. “It was the best decision we ever made,” said Nicora, “this partnership helped us achieve our goal of expanding and competing with bigger players.” Ovations, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor, catapulted the newly formed partnership, Ovations FanFare into the major league.
They brought with them major contracts with Cal Expo and the California State Fair in Sacramento, the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, the Ventura County Fair, and the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton, as well as contracts with concert, sports and entertainment venues throughout California. Nick continues to focus on what he does best, creating interactive destinations that provide the highest quality foods, beverages and entertainment at locations where people will want to stay. After all, this defines the Master Concessionaire.
“Today, people want information instantaneously – they want to see their options in one place at any given time. Social Media Marketing allows you to connect directly with your customer in a way that traditional marketing channels can’t reach them.”
Nick has continued his work from his modest office at the Alameda County Fairground with a front-row view of the racetrack, developing and raising the standard for the leisure food and beverage industry. Today, he operates 18 venues and nine fair facilities for Ovations Food Services in Orange County, Ventura, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Pleasanton, Solano and at Cal Expo, as well as three minor league ballparks, one concert facility, the San Jose Student Center, Bull Dog Stadium and two Indian reservations bringing $60 M to the company’s annual revenue.
He began creating entertainment destinations with Hussong’s Cantina, inventor of the original Margarita in Ensinada, Mexico. In a license agreement between Ricardo Hussong, owner of the world famous cantina and Calvada, Nicora replicated the cantina for Ovations Food Services at two major locations including the Orange County Fairground and a brick and mortar establishment at Cal Expo, as well as
portable locations at the Pleasanton and Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Hussong’s branding is also licensed to Hussong’s Cantina in Las Vegas, NV. Each location is a replica of the original Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, and they specialize in Margaritas, of course. Since 1991, Nicora established and currently operates four other destinations, including Blues n Brews, a Jazz/Blues bar and grill, Baja Blues, featuring cross-over entertainment, Sliders, a sports bar and grill, and Big Bear BBQ, a country corral.
Free-spirited, Nicora said that he’d someday like to see a Motown location, featuring a retro/dance theme and the entire Motown scene. He’d call it, “Motown Review.”
“Fairs are the last form of true family entertainment,” he said. A family man, Nick’s work ethic has influenced his entire family. His wife, JoanMarie, daughter, Christina, and sons, Dominic, Nicholas, and Andrew worked along side Nick throughout his career. JoanMarie currently manages VIP events for Ovations, Christina is the Food & Beverage Coordinator at the International Culture Exchange Group, Dominic owns Mangiata Catering, Nicholas owns Gourmet Poppers, a stand whose name speaks for itself, and Andrew worked in various positions at Ovations, then for FotoMojo, a San Francisco advertising and marketing company where he is currently a director of photography. Andrew is also a Co-Founder of Stitches ‘n Dishes with business partner, Chris Ford, owner of FotoMojo.
“It’s high time that fairs and venues catch up and utilize the capability of Social Media Marketing. It’s time to regroup and make sure all the bases are covered; get back to ground roots and connect with our customers.”
Throughout his successful career, Nick’s marketing and business development expertise has been sought after by both commercial and government organizations, including the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Fairs and Expositions, Western Fairs Association, California National Agriculture Day, The City of San Francisco, The Oakland Convention Bureau, 1987 Papal Visit to Monterey, 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and Inaugural receptions for Governor Jerry Brown, Governor Pete Wilson 1991 & 1995 and Governor Grey Davis 1998 & 2002. Nick has also served on the California State Fair Advisory Board, Buy California Program and the California State Environmental Health Advisory Board. Stitches ‘n Dishes was honored to be selected as the official photographer for Ovations Food Services at Governor Jerry Brown’s inaugural reception in January of this year. Ovations is currently the go to caterer of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“Times change,” Nick said, speaking of traditional marketing channels. “It’s high time that fairs and venues catch up and utilize the capability of Social Media Marketing.” Nicora is currently exploring methods to incorporate Social Media Marketing into his business development strategies for Ovations. “Social Media Marketing gives us the tools we need to reach out to our customers – to get out to them. Today’s consumers don’t absorb information the same way they did five, ten years ago. Today, people want information instantaneously – they want to see their options in one place at any given time. Social Media Marketing allows you to connect directly with your customer in a way that traditional marketing channels can’t reach them.” He concluded.
Stitches ‘n Dishes couldn’t agree more, Nick. So, don’t be surprised to find blazing BBQ specials or Margarita Mondays Tweeting out to cell phones everywhere.
After a 13-year stretch of phenomenal growth, Nicora says “it’s time to regroup and make sure all the bases are covered; get back to ground roots and connect with our customers. You don’t need to come up with something new to grow your business or to keep your customers satisfied.” That said, Nicora still admits that he’s tempted to make the world’s largest Margarita. Based on Nick Nicora’s running track record, we can be certain that whatever his next move may be, it will be nothing short of astounding.
On November 07, 2011, The Guinness Book of World’s Records reconized that Nick Nicora and Brett Enright had set a new world’s record for the largest commercially available hamburger. That record will be documented once the 777lb burger has been on sale for one year. The big beef patty has been available at Cal Expo, LA County Fair, Arizona State Fair and at NASCAR raceways, and was sold to Barrett Jackson Auto Auction. Nick was recently nominated for and won the coveted Venues Today, “Headline of the Year Award” for his accomplishment on the 777 lb World’s Largest Commercially Available Hamburger title. Read more about this prestigious award and watch our documentary, including never-before-seen footage of the record-breaking event in my previous article on Tuesday.