Digital Exclusive: Concession companies adjusting plans for 2021 due to COVID-19

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For five straight weekends in 2020 — Thursday through Sunday, from December 3rd to January 3rd — Lombardo’s Concessions in Erie hosted a ravioli drive-thru in the parking lot of Waldameer park. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, people who wanted a delicious Italian dinner during the holidays had to drive through a designated path, order food without getting out of their cars, and wait for the concession attendant to return with their order. During those five weekends, 60,000 meals were served.

But, for Jeremy Lombardo, the owner of Lombardo’s Concessions, a drive-thru concession stand was “a logistical nightmare.”

“For every car you serve, you need two sets of people: One to serve the car and one to prepare the food within the tent,” Lombardo said. “It called for double the staffing… It’s difficult to turn a profit. You have a lot more labor costs, a lot more logistical costs, a lot more just site design, a lot more organization and a lot more working pieces involved.”

Lombardo said he will not do any drive-thrus this year, despite their popularity, because he took in “massively less income” in 2020. He said he had enough to pay the bills and his workers, but his losses were around 75 percent for the year.

He is not the only one holding out for gigs with customers actually walking up to his window. Despite a “very, very successful year,” Preston Devenney, owner of Signature Concessions, said he will not do drive-thrus again.

“We’re used to, every week, being in a different place, whether it being a different city, different festival,” said Devenney. “This year was a lot of local things that we helped out… It took hours and hours and hours to set up one of those type of events. Logistically, it just drained me by the end of the year. I just was done with it.”

The problem for both Devenney and Lombardo is that numerous local festivals have already cancelled this year, forcing them to get creative to keep the business up and running. Signature Concessions will be putting on two major events: Great Lakes Jeep Jam, from July 15-18, and Gears ‘n’ Grub, with a date to be determined.

Lombardo said he believes he needs to get by until July or August, when he believes the COVID-19 restrictions should relax enough for events to return. So, along with the three current festivals and events he has scheduled (he’s hoping for more), he will be helping with local fundraisers.

“There’s a school that needs funding for their prom, [and] they just haven’t had the resources to do it, so we’re going to raise some money for them,” Lombardo said. “We’re going to do another one for Leboeuf Little League [baseball]… The lion’s share of the funds will go to the organization[s], but in the end, we’re hoping to come out with a little bit of money ourselves.”

Devenney said he loves working events with non-profits because it is a way to give back to the community, but it is a major business adjustment.

“It has [helped keep us afloat], but it’s very hard.”

With another year of uncertainty, what about taking a year off?

“Taking a year off is not an option,” Lombardo said. “Just like any business — the festivals may stop, but the bills don’t.”

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