Oct 17, 2023 - News

Indiana Pacers give big breaks to local chefs

Monique Hawkins and daughter Kara Hawkins pose in front of wings they'll be selling this season at Indiana Pacers games.

Monique Hawkins, left, and her daughter, Kara Hawkins, opened their first restaurant in 2021 and grew quickly through the Indiana Pacers' guest chef program. Photo: James Briggs/Axios

The age-old stadium smells of stale beer and hot dogs are giving way to a new trend: sporting events as chef-inspired food halls.

Driving the news: The Indiana Pacers are featuring local chefs as they roll out new food options for the upcoming season, starting Oct. 25 at home against the Washington Wizards.

State of play: Gainbridge Fieldhouse has become a launching pad for restaurants through a 2-year-old program that invites chefs to sell signature dishes on the main concourse near Section 17.

The big picture: Participating chefs receive mentorship and exposure to thousands of potential new customers for two games — or longer, if sales are strong — while the Pacers gain food variety and local credibility.

Zoom in: Two restaurants — Mambos Cheesesteak Grill and Taste of Innova Wings & Greens — parlayed the guest program into permanent locations at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

  • Monique Hawkins, a marketer who enjoys cooking at home, opened Taste of Innova along with her daughter, Kara Hawkins, an architect, in 2021 at the AMP at 16 Tech.
  • Taste of Innova's initial stint at Gainbridge Fieldhouse turned into a big break, leading to 25% revenue growth at the AMP as Pacers fans became repeat customers.
  • The restaurant has since opened a location at Lucas Oil Stadium.

What they're saying: "This definitely increased our business and our brand awareness," Monique Hawkins tells Axios.

What's next: The Pacers are bringing in 10 chefs for select games this season, including:


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