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Aramark and Stephen Starr make a deal to collaborate on new dining concepts

Aramark will acquire a minority ownership position in Starr's company. Starr will get national visibility.

Restaurateur Stephen Starr at LMNO.
Restaurateur Stephen Starr at LMNO.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Aramark and Starr Restaurant Organization, both based in Philadelphia, announced a collaboration that will expand founder Stephen Starr’s brands and meld his ideas into the wide-ranging businesses of the food and facilities-management giant.

Aramark will acquire a minority ownership position in Starr’s restaurant company. Starr will be given national visibility, far beyond his more than two dozen restaurants in four states from New York to Florida, including 15 in Philadelphia.

Aramark, a Fortune 500 company valued at $9 billion, says it serves 100 million people a year nationwide at its facilities in colleges, businesses, sports and entertainment venues, convention centers, and cultural attractions.

Aramark and Starr will share creative and operational knowledge, the companies announced.

In an interview, Starr emphasized that he would continue to oversee his restaurants, including Parc, Barclay Prime, and Buddakan in Philadelphia.

In effect, Starr is returning to the entertainment field, where he started in the mid-1970s as a concert promoter booking such unknowns as Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and Pat Benatar. Aramark manages the food service at more than 150 sports and entertainment venues, including Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

The agreement also creates an exclusive licensing agreement for Aramark to operate designated Starr concepts and brands across multiple venues. As an example, Starr said, Aramark could put Jackass Burritos, a ghost kitchen created by Starr, into college dining halls, stadiums, and arenas. “I’m excited to do this kind of thing,” Starr said, adding that he welcomed the challenge to collaborate on new concepts in the fast-casual sector, a space that Starr has not explored extensively.

» READ MORE: LMNO is Stephen Starr’s ode to Baja Mexico with a bookshop

Agreements between large food-service companies and independent restaurant companies are not without precedent. In 2019, Compass Group USA invested in Union Square Events, the catering arm of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Starr himself was in the catering business but sold Starr Events in 2015.

Aramark has partnered with dozens of culinarians on a smaller scale, such as chef Michael Symon’s arrangement to create a menu at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ arena.

“This isn’t just one chef we’re partnering with,” said Marc Bruno, Aramark’s chief operating officer for U.S. food and facilities. His company’s Philadelphia base gave it “a front-row seat” for Starr’s ascent as a restaurateur over the last 26 years. Starr won the 2017 James Beard Award for restaurateur of the year.

Bruno said he and Starr had “a philosophical conversation around innovation, and what’s next on the horizon in the food scene. For us it’s bringing what’s new and trendy into the environments that we serve. And Stephen? Everybody knows his creativity and innovation. He does it in the confines of a restaurant wall and in our world, we can take these ideas and scale them across multiple venues.”

“Are we going to be serving crispy calamari salad from Buddakan at one of our venues,” Bruno said, chuckling. “That could be an idea on the table, but it could be something we haven’t even thought of or created yet.”