Q&A Wayne Kostroski

Taste of the NFL Founder in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We are so excited to have you coming to New York this year. I cannot tell you.

Well I, as well. There are extra special years, our twentieth anniversary in North Texas was amazing, and our Tropicana year, in Saint Petersburg when we took over Tropicana field was an amazing year. Two years from now our twenty fifth anniversary is coming up. This will be the top of the 23 years, because I keep saying to people it's New York. And even better it's Brooklyn. We are so pumped.

What year did this begin? And where did this whole idea come from?

It started in Minnesota in 1992. A couple years before that Minnesota was announced to be the host for Super Bowl XXVI. The host committee started, growing and being put together and I was asked to serve as the chair of the restaurant committee and coordinate the 3,000 restaurants in Minnesota. The term that the Super Bowl was here I was going to be the president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association. So that kind of overlapped, and it made sense.

So are you a restaurateur by trade? Is that your background?

Oh God, that's my day job. Yes I've had about 10 restaurants over the last 35 years. That's what I do for a living and for the last number of years I've been winding down the restaurants. I have one now that's been around about 15 years and then we have a food service operation at the Minnesota state fair for 15 years. It allows me to pay the bills and the mortgages. Really our Franklin Street Bakery operation. It's a wholesale bakery where we specialize in great breads and ship to over 20 states across the country through SYSCO, US Food Services, etc. So that's how I make a living. This is all volunteer work and I'm blessed.

Milea February 2019 728×90

That's fantastic- what a great story.

Well, that's why I know food service and that's why I knew when the Super Bowl was coming here. And I've been involved with hunger programs for about 10 plus years and I’m also on the board of Share Our Strength, and on the board of Jeff Bridges' End Hunger Network and so the idea came to me. Our fine dining restaurant offers different benefits for hunger around the country.

Wolfgang Puck has his Meals on Wheels. And, in Chicago we have a charitable event we send our restaurant to, and in Miami etc. We would participate in different events so from my end, I was in the business that I knew and how incredibly charitable the hospitality industry is and plus I knew a lot of chefs on restaurant tours. And it made sense to create an event.

The hip scene in Brooklyn is exactly what we need. To make this work, we've got to bring the kind of fresh and youthfulness into this event after 22 years. And I can't think of a better place to do it than Brooklyn but I mean you ask anybody on the street and they'll tell you for 20 minutes why they're proud to be there.

And then, you know, we've got Ted Allan who lives there and couldn't be prouder of Brooklyn. Andrew Zimmern spent some of his growing up time in Brooklyn. One of our board members is from Brooklyn. As I talk to more people, if you and I aren't from Brooklyn, what's wrong with us? It's amazing how many people are willing to, and interested to step up and really shine a huge spotlight on Brooklyn. And I have to tell you, there's very little doubt in my mind, short of a Hurricane Sandy coming through there's very little doubt in my mind that this year's event will be the largest net event, we will top. A million dollars. 

We will beat North Texas. But also, because it's New York and you know, Bobby Flay is on our board. And our supporters and people ready to go with us are Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller. In New York we're doing an event with Danny Meyer and Share our Strength in September. We're doing something at the New York Athletic Club in November. It's going to be a season-long campaign to raise awareness and dollars for hunger. This year Cake Boss’, Buddy is going to make a cake of Super Bowl worthiness.

If a New York restaurant owner or If you're a food distributor or somebody in the industry and you want to be either affiliated with the Taste of NFL, or you want to be affiliated with one of the lead up events what kind of opportunity is there to get involved, and how does one go about getting involved?

To help out you know, I believe in the hospitality industry and I believe in this country. I mean I'm not running for office here. But if someone identifies a need to someone, that someone will at least consider, pretty quickly if they can help, and if they can they'll do it, and if they can't, they can't. In the hospitality industry, we are incredibly giving. Who do you always turn to first when someone puts on a charity?

So, we made a conscious shift about 15 years ago to really focus on our volunteer base being culinary schools, culinary students and part of that was to have them work elbow to elbow, planting the seed with their heroes that, you know, you should be involved with I'm here prepping this dish for Taste of NFL tomorrow night or tonight. If you are a culinary student, you know you are helping me, thank you very much. But let me tell you I am Bobby Flay, I am Todd English, I am whatever and I'm here because I think we should be helping in our community. Now, since we've been around for 22 years, I run into so many kitchen workers and chefs and restaurant people who have said, you know, I helped out at your Atlanta event in 1994 and now I've got my own restaurant.

So, where do you see this 10 years down the road? God willing, nobody will be hungry anymore. But in the off chance that somebody still might be hungry where are you headed and where are we going?

We really do play in the grand scheme of things but unfortunately a pretty small role in the cause and effect. And really the purpose continues to be, you know, is to spotlight the issue as often as we can. Not only to benefit “the event” of the kick hundred challenge or whatever but just to raise the awareness that, you know, it's not always checkbooks or anything else. Look, around at your neighbor. Hunger is an invisible issue. If you see someone in a box under a bridge, obviously, they're homeless, I mean okay? You get that. You see that. And, then, when you build a house with Habitat for Humanity or repair houses and all those great things that happened to you, have an end result and you look at and say, there, now there's a house, people can live in it. Hunger is, you know, so tricky, so invisible.

Working together and particularly with the chefs and the players who could be making a lot of money signing autographs. Super Bowl weekend and chefs would certainly rather be in the restaurant, you know, taking care of their guests. But they are here so I've got to continue to find ways to have them feel fulfilled. They have got to find that their work is good. And a lot of that has come through a season long with this Kick Hunger Challenge and other things. That they're active in their community now, players and chefs, through the entire season.

And this just isn't a get together party, raise money; now we've solved the problems, see you later. And there's Tom Colicchio's film A Place at the Table. The part of the message, if you will, is that he's not asking for a dime. He's saying we need to change. Hence the political will. We've got to, change the visibility and the awareness of what's going on here. And, get both sides of the isle, and every office you can to say locally and nationally we're involved.