TAMPA — City Hall is seeking local vendors for a million-dollar piece of business at the Republican National Convention — catering for cops.
Picture this: buffet-style chow lines or boxed take-out meals at 10 or more locations around town. Each site will serve meals and snacks for 200 to 500 officers working a variety of shifts. The operation will go for five straight days.
The city's request for vendors wants local caterers — Hillsborough- or Pinellas-based companies only, please — who can serve 800 or more meals a day.
That's because the city will have a lot of mouths to feed. In addition to its own officers and Hillsborough sheriff's deputies, Tampa plans to bring in about 3,000 officers from around Florida to help police the convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30.
With that influx, city officials see an opportunity for some Tampa Bay companies. The Hillsborough- or Pinellas-only requirement was included "to support our local businesses and economy," police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said in an email to the Times.
Speaking to a downtown business group recently, police Chief Jane Castor urged restaurateurs not to overlook the potential of the law enforcement market.
"One thing that cops like to do," she said, "is eat."
City officials say they're reserving the right to hire one or more caterers for the job. They want vendors who have been in business at least five years, but there's no request for Tampa Bay favorites like Cuban sandwiches, deviled crab or Greek salad.
"We have no preference on the type of food," Davis said.
Still, it's the kind of opportunity to make a caterer salivate.
"Sure, I would entertain the idea," Alessi Bakeries general manager Wes Wilson said Friday. Wilson hadn't heard about the city's search for caterers, but he said Alessi has sent some menus to prospective convention clients.
Alessi is mainly looking to provide breakfasts and lunches, Wilson said. Convention dinners are likely to be a more high-end affair.
But with up to 50,000 visitors in town, the opportunities should extend beyond the delegates themselves or, in the city's case, the police.
"There's a lot of behind-the-scenes people who are going to be here who will definitely need to eat," he said.
City officials are not asking caterers for pricing at this point. That will come later.
But the budget for meals is $1 million, Davis said. That's what St. Paul, Minn. spent feeding officers at the 2008 GOP convention.
Money for the meals is coming from a $50 million federal grant for convention security.
Up to two-thirds of the grant is expected to go to personnel costs, including an anticipated $2 million hotel bill to bunk the visiting officers in 1,500 local rooms. (Police did look for cheaper arrangements, including billeting officers in dorms at the University of Tampa, but were turned down.)
Responses to the catering invitation are due by March 27.
And because the police being fed must be ready for anything, including a riot, the city's request includes this: "The vendor must demonstrate that it has a quality control plan in place to prevent food contamination and food poisoning."
Information from the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune was used in this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.