How Real Sports feeds thousands of ravenous fans a day
It’s 4:15 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Real Sports Bar, the stadium-sized beer hall and restaurant next door to the Air Canada Centre. Fans in blue-and-white Leafs jerseys are clinking pint glasses and glancing up at the bar’s 200 jumbo screens, where curling, soccer and commercials are playing—nothing interesting, yet. In just three hours, though, the Leafs will square off against the Red Wings at the ACC. Hundreds of supporters will start pouring into the bar over three separate rushes—before, during and after the game. Back in the kitchen, the unionized staff is preparing for its own athletic trial. “Today we’ll probably serve 2000 fans,” says executive chef Matthew Sullivan. (On its busiest days of the week, Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington does about 400.) Feeding such a huge number of people requires relentless prep work, coordination and stamina. Here’s how they do it.
Real Sports spans 25,000 square feet and seats nearly 1,000 people.
Back in the kitchen, line cooks hustle to get orders out so that fans can get to their seats at the ACC on time. “It’s a controlled chaos,” says executive chef Matthew Sullivan.
The restaurant orders over 2,000 kilograms of chicken wings per week—about 50,000 individual wings. By the end of tonight, fans will have gobbled around 3,500 of them. It takes a lot of beer to wash down all that poultry. (Forty kegs’ worth, to be exact.)
Fries are another huge seller. Line cook Patrick Devine preps for the first evening rush by chopping potatoes in a massive fry punch. Devine can punch an entire 50-pound bag in under a minute. “He’s an absolute beast,” says Sullivan.
All possible steps are taken to make food assembly extra-efficient—including pre-layering burger buns with lettuce and tomato.
The aim is to have every order out in 15–20 minutes. “Hands!” calls out GM Sarah Mills, who’s jumped in as an expediter. “I need hands, please.”
At 5:50 p.m., there are 225 tables waiting for food. Orders turn red when they near the 15-minute mark—a menacing reminder that it’s crunch time.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, time to kick it into overdrive,” the lead cook announces over a loudspeaker. “We are getting filled real fast.” Tonight is busy, but it’s nothing like it’ll be if the Leafs or Raptors make the playoffs.
Food runners hurry away with plates. Occasionally, the restaurant hand-delivers orders to the ACC. (“For super-VIPs,” says Sullivan).
Out on the floor, 32 servers are working alongside 14 bartenders, seven managers and supervisors, nine barbacks, 10 hostesses and 12 bussers. There’s one barback whose sole job is to change kegs all night long.
When the pre-game rush is over, staff take a well-deserved break. The frenetic energy in the kitchen has abated a little, but the lull won’t last long. The next wave of fans is about to arrive.
“There are no shortcuts,” says Sullivan. All the restaurant’s dishes are made in-house, from scratch. “They look like they’ve downed about 15 Red Bulls,” he says, pointing to the line of cooks. “It’s just a matter of powering through until we get it done.”
Unfortunately, the bar’s $80,000 dishwasher has chosen tonight to break down, forcing staff to march dishes to the restaurant upstairs to be washed. 66-year-old Alan Duncan remains unfazed. It’s all part of the job.