Wild Connections: July 2013

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It’s a girl! The first McNicholas grandchild

The SSA family is still buzzing over the birth of Sean and Audra’s first child, Aralilia Ann (Lil). The happy couple welcomed Lil on May 20, and she’s bound to spread magic and cheer throughout the years.

It’s reported that grandparents Kevin and Mary are already spoiling, cuddling and adoring the happy newborn and are captivated by her infectious smile. Not a surprise, as after all, she’s their first grandchild!

The family is thankful to everyone for all the prayers, well wishes, love and support.


Daddy Sean says Lil is the most precious thing on earth.


There’s nothing better than being a grandparent as evidenced by the smiles of Kevin and Mary McNicholas.


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Bert Verscolani, CEO, Saint Louis Science Center

While he was growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, Bert Vescolani was not only a nature boy but a self-proclaimed science geek. By the time he entered Michigan State University, his goal was to become a medical doctor. But after a stint working in a hospital, Bert changed his mind. His grandfather, who was Dean of Education at the University of Arkansas, encouraged him to try an education class. Bert did, and quickly fell in love with this avocation. “Taking a science methods class opened my eyes on how to take the fun of science and connect it with people. It was a perfect marriage,” said Bert. He earned his degree in education and became a teacher at a high school in a Chicago suburb.

When the Shedd Aquarium opened its Oceanarium in 1991, it needed to expand its volunteer program. Bert decided to offer his nature and science expertise. After a year, he became an enthusiast of the aquarium’s informal learning process and began working part-time doing public programs in the evenings and on weekends. Soon the aquarium offered him a full-time job, and Bert said “why not take a pay cut while my wife is pregnant?” He joked that this job was a downwardly mobile one! But, it quickly turned into an upwardly mobile one as he received several promotions, eventually becoming Senior Vice President. Bert left the aquarium in 2005 to assume the Directorship at the 103-acre John Ball Zoological Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

After several successful years in that role, Bert was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Saint Louis Science Center in 2011. He now leads a team of 198 staff members and 498 volunteers whose mission is to ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning.

Bert claims he’s getting back to his roots. “There are a lot of great things happening in science today. I like watching the ‘aha! Moments’ when guests discover and see things at the museum. I love to see that we inspire, motivate or captivate our audiences in many ways.”

Even though Bert is now the person in charge, his love of teaching is still important, especially in the area of staff development. “I take a lot of satisfaction when the staff that I have taught moves on to other jobs with more responsibility,” he added.

Bert said another highlight of his career is when he feels like he made a difference. He shared an example of a conservation project he worked on in the Dominican Republic where he dove the coral reefs fastening mooring buoys for dive boats to use when anchoring rather than damaging the coral. When the crew was leaving after a morning of diving, Bert looked back and saw a boat anchoring to the orange buoy, and he said he thought it worked and he made a difference.

Since Bert has been at the Science Center he has been busy building confidence back in the organization and creating an integrated environment at the facility.  He explained, “Your store, your food service, your exhibits and your education opportunities all have to be woven together as one brand, and they have to be connected together as it does make a difference in the guest experience.”

He and his wife, Danielle, have three children, two girls and one boy. The oldest is in college, one is in 10th grade and the youngest is in seventh grade. When Bert is not at work, he likes to spend time with his kids as well as attending their sporting and school events.

Like the gymnast he was in college, Bert is bound to continue to “raise the bar” in both his professional career and personal life.

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SSA’s new food truck motors from zoos to museums and more!

Cincinnati Zoo Chef Josh Middlemist has been traveling the east coast with the Craft Fine Street Food truck since early spring. When it made its stop at the Cincinnati Zoo, it quickly became a crowd favorite at the zoo as evidenced by its excellent sales. Dom Wenstrup and Cheryl Owens helped Chef Josh.

Cincinnati Zoo Chef Josh Middlemist has been traveling the east coast with the Craft Fine Street Food truck since early spring. When it made its stop at the Cincinnati Zoo, it quickly became a crowd favorite at the zoo as evidenced by its excellent sales. Dom Wenstrup and Cheryl Owens helped Chef Josh.

Of all the food trends to take off during the last few years, food trucks are at top of the list. It seems like many chefs think it would be fun to cook in a repurposed delivery truck. Among the believers are Service Systems Associates (SSA) President Tim Brantley and SSA Corporate Executive Chef Travis Kight.

Travis shared that the food-truck phenomenon has exploded in cities across the United States, and it was a natural addition to SSA’s culinary program as the company is always looking at ways to stay on top. “The food truck is a cool trendy addition to our culinary program that will allow us to offer flexibility for both on-site and off-site events,” he added.

Tim said that this concept is something different, and no other guest services company is offering it at zoos, museums or aquariums. “We are known as innovators and leaders in the industry, and the addition of a food truck just made sense,” he said.

The 20 x 30-foot repurposed truck was designed by Travis with help from the Denver Zoo Executive Chef Beau Green. The truck has a fully-equipped kitchen with ovens, fryers, grills, freezers, fridge as well as hand and dish sinks.

The truck is wrapped in a sleek contemporary graphics and prominently features its name: Craft – Fine Street Food. Travis said the name is based on the concept of SSA chefs CRAFTING killer food. The truck is staffed by SSA chefs.

Driven by the “Food Truck Dude” Josh Middlemist, the truck did a spring tour and traveled to zoos in Tulsa, Nashville, Cincinnati and Columbia, South Carolina. It’s currently at the Denver Zoo, and it will be parked in a prime location at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January.

The SSA chefs can easily adjust the menu based on where the truck is at and on the seasons. The goal is to offer fresh, local, quality food, which is served quickly and conveniently. Another benefit is the ability to test new menu items. Currently the menu offers a variety of street tacos featuring chicken, fish, roasted pork and other tempting proteins.

Travis said that this truck allows the culinary team to be creative and produce restaurant-quality food in unique setting for special events. “It’s all part of our desire to stay ahead of the trends and bring something different to table each year for our clients,” he added.

Like Craft on Facebook

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cincy zoo base campOne of the greenest zoos in America recently became greener with the opening of its renovated Base Camp Café. The Cincinnati Zoo achieved four stars, the highest rating possible from the Green Restaurant Association. Only 15 restaurants in the nation have achieved that distinction, and none with as many points as Base Camp received.

According to Service Systems General Manager Steve Wells the zoo and SSA are driven to strive to be greener and to implement sustainable measures, and it just made sense to pursue this certification. “We want to become an industry leader in everything we do,” added Steve.

The Green Restaurant Association, founded in Boston in 1990, awards points for energy-saving elements from water use to composting and recycling. A four-star rating requires 300 points. Base Camp accumulated 487.1.

cincy zoo garden

The renovated restaurant gets a quarter of its power from the zoo’s solar electricity array. Attractive easy-to-use recycle/compost bins were installed for the use of the general public as well as the back of house operations. Food is served in containers that can be composted along with food waste.

In preparing its menu, SSA staff increased their use of food grown locally. The Base Camp now offers a new grass-fed burger and made-to-order salads, including a strawberry salad with feta and almonds.

cincy zoo inside base camp

The kids’ menu features fruit, organic juice or milk and veggie and turkey burgers.

A new covered deck overlooks the Africa exhibit, where visitors can eat while watching lions, tigers and zebras. Also, on the deck is a greenhouse that will provide year-round fresh vegetables – even fish, once an aquaponics project is up and running.

The year-round restaurant quadrupled its seating to 350 guests.

Base Camp joins the Artic Café at the Detroit Zoo as green-certified restaurants. Artic Café achieved a two-star designation from the Green Restaurant Association in 2010 and was the first zoo to be recognized by the association.

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Gift and Bookstore staff was busy all weekend but found a moment to connect with their favorite chef. Sales Associate Joey Amerison is shown here with Carla Hall.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium SSA retail team took part in the aquarium’s signature sustainable cooking event May 17 – 19 by coordinating book signings by local and celebrity chefs, including Carla Hall, from ABC’s The Chew. Carla was also a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef. The three-day event included a Friday night Gala with over 2,200 guests, 80 outstanding restaurants and 60 premium West Coast wineries.  Saturday and Sunday at the aquarium were fun for the whole family with a Sustainable Foods Celebration featuring Whole Foods Markets, local growers and food artisans as well as demonstrations with culinary experts.

In conjunction with the events, the Gift and Bookstore featured eco-friendly cooking items and utensils, such as those made from bamboo. These “green” products offered guests great choices for creating their own masterpieces.

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Jim Anderson, Director of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, has been named AZA Inspector of the Year by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Anderson has conducted 20 inspections at zoos around the country and is currently vice-chair of the AZA Accreditation Commission. He also serves as a mentor for zoos seeking accreditation and on a variety of boards and committees with AZA.

To be accredited by the AZA, the zoos and aquariums must meet rigorous standards in animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. Organizations must be reaccredited every five years.

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Tracie Skretny, Director of Retail – East

Tracie Skretny, Director of Retail – East

The SSA Retail Division has added a new position and member to its team! Welcome Tracie Skretny, who will be Director of Retail – East Region. Patrick Brown has shifted his responsibilities from the East locations to continue his role as the Director of Retail – West Region.

Tracie will be supporting MOSI, Zoo Miami, Fort Wayne Zoo, Maryland Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo Museum of Science, Cincinnati Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo.

Tracie previously worked at Delaware North Companies (DNC) where she was the Director of Retail for Ralph Wilson Stadium (Buffalo Bills). Her responsibilities included Retail Training programs, Purchasing, Assortment Planning, Visual Merchandising, E-commerce, Marketing Plans, Operations, Client Relations and Hiring/Training. She also supported additional DNC locations, such as the NY Jets/Giants, Chicago Bears, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Twins, and many more with transitions and openings.

Prior to DNC, she was a District Manager with the Disney Store and was with them for over 11 years. She was responsible for multiple stores in her district, which included all the facets of retail operations including developing talent, delivering execution, and driving sales. She was also a National Training Coordinator for the company and trained other District Managers.


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News from the field

When hunger strikes guests at the Buffalo Museum of Science and Industry, they can stop by the new Elements Café and grab a bite. This location offers freshly made soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and a variety of delicious snacks.

When hunger strikes guests at the Buffalo Museum of Science and Industry, they can stop by the new Elements Café and grab a bite. This location offers freshly made soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and a variety of delicious snacks.



With over three miles of walkways on 327 developed acres, guests may rent a Safari Cycle. Small cycles can accommodate up to three adults and two small children, while the large cycles can accommodate up to six adults and two small children. To meet guests’ expectations, the Zoo Miami Culinary team renovated one of its kiosks to offer drive-through service. The new Outpost is proving to be a popular stop!


Bio Park Seafood festival

Shark Reef Cafe staff serves up sustainable seafood

The New Mexico BioPark Society and Seattle Fish Company of New Mexico hosted the 9th Annual Rock the Boat Sustainable Seafood Festival at the aquarium on June 6. The festival featured dozens of local chefs and their eco-conscious seafood creations. Guests nibbled on the best seafood around while learning about choices that are healthy for humans and oceans.


Zoo Miami reception

Zoo Miami Catering Team helps to raise money for conservation.

Back for its second appearance at the Cincinnati Zoo, the SSA catering team and Corporate Executive Chef Travis Kight pulled off yet another spectacular Farm To Table event held on the new African Savannah deck. In partnership with Green B.E.A.N. Delivery and Whole Foods, this event almost exclusively utilizes food from local farmers and the zoo farm – all served family style. Information about the zoo’s sustainability efforts is an integral part of the event, too. These events have proven so popular that they’re now a series and the next event is scheduled for the fall.

Taste of the Wild Catering at Zoo Miami catered the opening reception of the Savage Art Show. The show featured a collection of works created by the animals at the zoo and their stewards. The exhibit was organized by the South Florida Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers as a fundraiser.


At Zoo Boise, the SSA Catering staff served a fajita buffet to several VIPs who were at the zoo before attending the first Wildlife Expo. This program featured 14 recipients, who received conservation grants from the zoo, talk about their projects. Since 2007, the zoo has raised $1 million for conservation through guest experiences, such giraffe feedings, boat rides, pellet food sales as well as from a percentage of gate admission and membership purchases.


At the Buffalo Zoo, Luna, the polar bear cub, has become a celebrity – attracting crowds as well as national media coverage. To capitalize on this popularity, the zoo’s gift shop staff has created several polar-bear themed items, such as plush, t-shirts and other souvenirs. SSA Regional Buyer and Operations Manager Laurel Wright helped the zoo team to introduce new and exciting polar bear themed items, including an “I Care About Polar Bears” stretch bracelet. This item is not only an attractive keepsake, but also helps support animal conservation


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Peter-YeoungA Hong Kong native, Peter Yeung moved to Hawaii and started his retail career. When SSA began managing the Hanauma Bay Gift Shop, Peter was asked to join the Retail Team as a supervisor.

Laurie Pinna, the GM at MOSI, recently decided to become a full-time student and left the museum. Tiffany Carter was promoted from Assistant Manager to GM. Also, Mohammad Lutfiyya was promoted to Assistant Manager.

Retail-Promo-WinnersThe Cincinnati Zoo SSA Retail Team consistently drives sales by holding monthly promo sales contests. The Spring Break contest winners, Linda McKinney, Julie Hendricks, Clarissa Brucato and Amy Sullender, got to meet My-Thai, up close and personal!

Welcome Aboard Matt Logsdon!
This summer the Cincinnati SSA team welcomes Matt Logsdon. Matt is currently a business student at Oklahoma State University and will be entering his senior year, double majoring in Marketing and Management at OSU this coming fall. Cincinnati will be the third zoo he’s worked; Tulsa and Pittsburgh being the others. Along with working for SSA in Cincinnati, he will also be interning with the zoo’s Group Sales department.


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The Buffalo Museum of Science and Industry recently opened its special exhibit, Vital, a plastination-preserved human bodies. The exhibit tells the fascinating story how to best fight, manage and prevent life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart ailments, through healthy choices and lifestyle changes.



Zoo Boise has opened a new jellyfish and African cichlid fish exhibit. The exhibit features two tanks with moon jellies swimming around with the current and one aquarium featuring mbuna cichlid fish that are native to Lake Malawi in Africa. The jellyfish and cichlids are the first aquarium exhibits opened at the zoo.


An interactive exhibit, Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science, recently opened at the Saint Louis Science Center Through hands-on challenges, authentic artifacts and guidance from real archaeologists, visitors will unearth the mysteries of Egypt, its culture and its people. The exhibit features a real human mummy and animal mummies, as well as scans, forensic facial reconstructions and, for the first time ever, life-size rapid prototypes display the mummy in various stages of “unwrapping.” Visitors can explore the art and artifacts from the daily life and funerary culture of ancient Egypt and connect with real scientists working in Egypt through video interviews and photographs from the field.


It’s a trip to the wilds of Africa! The Dallas Zoo is the first zoo in North America to combine African elephants with zebras, giraffes, impalas, ostriches and guinea fowl in the same habitat. At the zoo, these majestic animals can explore the award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat side by side, just as they would in the wild.


Special LEGO animal exhibits are proving to be a popular experience for zoo guests. Both Utah’s Hogle Zoo and the Houston Zoo designed life-size LEGO brick animal sculptures for guests to enjoy. At Hogle Zoo, Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion-Piece Animal Adventure features nine endangered species and their vanishing habitats. The Houston Zoo has more than two dozen LEGO animal sculptures that represent more than 10 species.


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Coquerel’s sifaka, an endangered lemur species native only to the island of Madagascar, has grown its global population by one with the recent birth at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. There are only eight accredited zoos to house sifaka in the country, and only 50 of the animals at those zoos.


What are baby warthogs called? Piglets! Two piglets, Daphne and Violet, were recently introduced to their outside exhibit at the Detroit Zoo. The piglets were born April 7.


The polar bear cub, Kali, rescued in March from the Point Lay area of Alaska, recently arrived at the Buffalo Zoo.


A baby Sumatran orangutan was recently born at the Albuquerque BioPark. Staff recently held a baby shower where they revealed the sex of the infant – it’s a girl! – and guests voted on the baby’s name, Pixi was the winning selection. Also, a pair of snow leopard cubs were born at the zoo.


Two porcupettes were born at the Living Desert. At birth, these young African crested porcupines have open eyes and soft quills, which harden quickly once exposed to air, in about 30 minutes.


The Los Angeles Zoo has had three chimpanzees born over the last 10 months. The zoo is home to one of the largest chimpanzee troops of any zoo in the country. Built in 1998, the zoo’s Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains habitat has been hailed by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall as one of the country’s finest chimpanzee habitats.


A female Eurasian lynx cub was recently born at the Nashville Zoo. She joins three other lynx at the zoo.


Four ruffed lemurs were recently born at the Sacramento Zoo. These Madagascar primates are listed as Critically Endangered. They are the only primates that keep their young in nests instead of carrying them.


Two snow leopard cubs were born recently at Zoo Boise. They are the first snow leopards to be born at the zoo.

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