Wild Connections: October 2013

In this issue: a new retail store and entrance in Buffalo, the Vegas Souvenir show, SSA's Annual Chef's Conference, Aquaponics, and more!

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Part of Buffalo Zoo’s master plan includes new exhibit spaces, a new entrance for zoo guests, and a larger, more shopper-friendly retail amenity.  The Zoo has spent the last two years raising $18 million, and was excited to cut the ribbon on the entrance and retail store in July of this year.OCT - buffalo zoo 3

The new entrance, a repurposed animal barn, is located adjacent to the Zoo’s main parking lot, a welcome change from the Parkside Avenue gate. It provides a safer and more convenient entrance to visitors, especially families.  The Zoo’s commitment to sustainability was evident in its decision to use an existing structure for this project.

In addition to the entrance, a new retail store was born.  With many store construction projects, you start with a generic shell.  Well, the Buffalo Zoo gift shop was anything but generic.  Brad Smithling, SSA Executive Vice President of Retail Operations, worked with architects to create a store environment that features original brick walls, industrial design features, and unique fixture installation that allows the beauty of the brick walls to be seen throughout. This zoo store stands alone in its design, making it a compelling retail space unmatched in the industry.

OCT - buffalo zoo 6Buffalo Zoo Retail GM Jeffery Blarr said the renovation offers a far greater variety of products in an open, warm inviting space.  The Zootique displays an assortment of souvenirs and gifts that reflect a commitment to reducing, reusing, and recycling, alongside its popular zoo-themed merchandise.  Jeff noted, “SSA’s ability to imagine, create and merchandise a unique high-end and enjoyable shopping environment is showcased with this sparkling new jewel, and by all sales measurements, our guests have responded with excitement, wonder and enthusiasm.”


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SSA’s retail team knows that they need to deliver quality product in addition to outstanding customer service for our authentic, interesting experiences to be a success.  One way that SSA does this is by attending trade shows, such as the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Show in September, which attracts more than 4,000 attendees each year and kicks off the planning process for the upcoming year.  SSA’s buyers spend a week interacting with vendors, sourcing new product, following up on product design, and building the foundations of next year’s merchant strategy.

This is also the trade show at which Brad Smithling, Executive Vice President of Retail Operations and Kim Black, Director of Retail Purchasing, host the annual SSA buyer’s meeting, focusing the retail team on performance results, product and fashion trends, and company programming.  They spend a full day discussing where we have been, where we are going, and how product programming will get us there.

Instead of purchasing for a couple categories, SSA buyers purchase all categories for a given location, and time spent together during trade shows creates an invaluable collaboration of talent.  The buyers use social media to talk to each throughout each day, effectively increasing the number of vendors and product every buyer sees at a given show.  The end of each day is spent sharing details about what they saw, conversations they had, and new ideas that came to mind.  SSA Partners benefit from this kind of interaction, too – think of it not as having a single buyer, but a whole buying team on your side!  This creative, synergistic type of decentralized buying is what helps SSA Retail remain on the leading edge.

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OCT - chef conference participantsEven though it may be quicker to communicate by phone or email, nothing replaces the power of a face-to-face meeting.  As with the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Show for our retail teams, the Annual Chef Conference (held in September in Denver, Colorado) illustrates the creativity and inspiration that comes from coming together to share best practices.

SSA Corporate Executive Chef Travis Kight said this conference is a gathering that fosters networking, brainstorming and working closer together as a team. He added, “Working together as a group gives us an edge against the competition.  Nothing is more rewarding than being around a group of passionate and caring chefs that want to win.”

During the three-day meeting, 28 chefs attended many educational events, including a Gallo wine pairing and tasting program, a hog break down with Hormel, a primer on fresh culinary / catering merchandising techniques, as well as a Train the Trainer class, which taught chefs how to be comfortable with public speaking (it’s not just about preparing mouth-watering food!).  The group also visited the Denver Zoo, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and the History Colorado Center; SSA provides culinary and retail services in all three operations and it was beneficial to see these SSA operations in action.  The OCT - chef conference competitionconference ended with the popular Iron Chef competition – SSA chefs show off inspired culinary creations and the teams are judged.  Congratulations to chefs Jake Crabtree (Zoo Miami), Brian McCorkell (Cincinnati Zoo), Jake ­­­Barr (Tulsa Zoo), and Dietrich Ackerman (Denver Zoo) who teamed up to prepare the winning selection:

  • Ahi Tuna Lettuce Wraps with Jicama Slaw and Pop Rocks
  • Quinoa-crusted Cornish Hen with Shaved Asparagus and Grilled Mushroom Salad
  • Caramelized Pineapple Bread Pudding

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2013 SEPT 10: Duplechian family visit.When SSA GM Todd Langfield (Cheyenne Mountain Zoo) needed photographs featuring a typical family that visits the zoo, he didn’t hire professional models, but instead turned to the zoo’s Facebook page to recruit volunteers.  From the twenty-five families that responded with photographs, two were selected. As the photo shoot was during the day on a weekday, they treated the project as a “family day” and took time off from work and kept the children out of school – making the kids happy!

The families each received a free lunch that day, and the opportunity to visit the zoo and have lunch on another day.  The photographs will be used in advertisements and other communication tools to highlight the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the great service that SSA provides.  The next time one of these family members walks down the streets of Colorado Springs, they just might get a stare and a wave….”Hey, I recognize you!”

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Executive Chef Brian McCorkell took part in an Aquaponics video shoot to raise public awareness about the most recent sustainability initiative at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.  Simply stated, Aquaponics is growing fish toOCT - CNZ - aquaponics2 eat (aquaculture) and vegetables (hydroponics) together, where wastes from the fish are food for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish – a mutually beneficial cycle.  Unlike traditional growing methods, the use of chemical fertilizer is not needed as the fish waste provides suitable nutrients for strong plant development.

The Greenhouse Aquaponics system consists of a fish tank, two grow beds for vegetables, a pump, an aerator, solids filter, and a bio-filter.  Water flows through the system continuously in a closed-loop allowing nutrients and water to be cycled and recycled.  The current plants growing in the Aquaponics system include basil, cucumber and tomato.  Each day, Chef Brian harvests what he needs for catering and restaurant meals, staying true to the zoo’s commitment to provide food that is as fresh and as local as possible.

OCT - CNZ - AquaponicsIs this a new technique?  No, it’s quite ancient actually, but becoming more popular as growers, such as Chef Brian, parlay the benefits of the Aquaponics nutrient cycle. They are even teaching local families how they can create an Aquaponics system at their own home.

The video, featuring Chef Brian and several Zoo culinary members, shows they can have fun with what otherwise might be a dry subject.  It was featured on ABC’s “The List” and can be viewed by clicking here.

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SSA Culinary recently kicked off the Saint Louis Science Center’s new catering department, Starlite Events, at a party in the newly renovated space (The Loft) at the Science Center.  Starlite Events is the full-service catering, event and hospitality arm of the Science Center.  Kitschy hors d’oeuvres, a signature martini, live music, liquid nitrogen mini ice cream cones and lounge furniture made for a fabulous evening.  The night was a great success, as one hundred of Saint Louis’ event planners and industry colleagues attended OCT - SLSC - Starlite - foodthe soiree, each departing with a Martini Shaker party favor in hand.

The Starlite Events team is making the Science Center a special place to host events by offering a range of service styles, price points and menu selections with customized options to fit the most discerning tastes, allOCT - SLSC - starlite - the loft logo infused with classic culinary underpinnings, but with a fresh modern style.  The center offers fantastic catering spaces, and Starlite Events is poised to make it one of Saint Louis’ premier event locations.

The Loft will be open for museum guests, 9:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m. daily.

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names in the NEWS

OCT - MNZ - lee. minnesota zoo

Lee Emhke

Lee Ehmke, Director of the Minnesota Zoo, begins a two-year term as president of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the group announced at its annual conference in October.  Once a professional organization for zoo managers, WAZA has evolved over the past two decades into an umbrella organization supporting zoos and aquariums and their growing role in conservation efforts around the world.  Congratulations, Lee!


Laurel Wright celebrated her 10th anniversary with SSA at the Minnesota Zoo in September.


Nashville Zoo Executive Chef David Miller was certified by the ACF (American Culinary Federation) as a Certified Executive Chef on November 2, 2013.  This method of certification has only been in use for less than 5 years.  It adds a practical hands-on examination to the previous certification requirements of a 100-question written exam and background verification.  The hands-on certification is considered to be a stiff evaluation of true culinary skills and sanitation knowledge.  Chef David is the first Executive Chef of any accredited zoo to be CEC Certified.  Congratulations Chef David!


OCT - HCC - Chef Bourcher

Chef Kurt Boucher

Chef Kurt Boucher is the Executive Chef at Café Rendezvous  at the History Colorado Center.  While he may be the top chef at the top museum in town, he’s used to the top.  Several years ago, he faced off against celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef.  He has also worked as a private chef for both P. Diddy and William H. Macy in addition to being chef / owner of his own restaurant.  In September, the Westword (a local Denver newspaper) featured Chef Kurt and his brand of Colorado-based cuisine.  Next time you are in downtown Denver, visit Chef Kurt at the Café Rendezvous and experience the next level of museum dining.  We know you’ll leave planning your return visit!


OCT - MBA clean-up

Sabrinia and Ella Wedderburn

Congratulations to our Assistant General Manager, Steve Schurr, of the Cincinnati Zoo.  Steve received his MBA from the University of Cincinnati.  Way to go!


The SSA team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium joins with aquarium employees and Save Our Shores to do a monthly clean up along the shoreline.  At a recent clean up, Retail Operations Manager Sabrinia Wedderburn and her daughter, Ella, helped to collect over 70 pounds of trash, including 1,200 cigarette butts, 100 metal/plastic bottle caps and stirrers.   What an impressive way to support our partner’s mission while teaching kids the value of environmental protection!

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Partner happenings

The Detroit Zoological Society received a $10 million gift toward development of The Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center.  The grant is the largest donation in the history of the zoo. The exhibit has been in the planning and design phase for two years and represents the largest project the zoo has ever undertaken.  One of the most dramatic features of the $21 million, 24,000-square-foot facility will be a penguin “deep dive,” with views above and below the water line as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area.


OCT - FCZ - Valley Farm Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Valley Farm at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Staff at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo has revamped the barnyard and agriculture exhibit.  The attraction features what life is like on a farm and helps showcase the area’s rich and diverse agricultural community.  From corn to eggs to sunflowers, everything grown in the exhibit will be used at the zoo, either to feed animals or for educational purposes.  The zoo, Fresno County Farm Bureau and Fresno State worked together to design and build the exhibit.


At Reid Park Zoo, Grizzly Crossing opened with two rescued grizzly bears.  These bears represent a new species for the zoo.  The bears roam in the enclosure that once held polar bears, and the exhibit includes a stream, a grassy area and a large pool.


OCT - TLZ - TulsaNew1clr_jpgBust out the ribbon and cake … The Tulsa Zoo celebrated its 85th birthday in September!  Since 1928, the zoo has been a cornerstone of the region, providing educational and recreational opportunities, while promoting conservation.  Congratulations!


In 1993, Tampa’s MOSI buried a time capsule full of recyclables.  This capsule was dug up and opened during the Environmental Expo held this past September.  The capsule’s contents were selected to show how technology has advanced in the world of recycled materials.  The expo featured games and craft activities for children.


OCT - HOZ - zoo lights staff

Selling Glow product at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is getting ready for another season of Holiday Lights, and it’s more spectacular than ever, adding over a million lights!  The fun begins November 22nd and runs through January 4th.  This year’s light program features an enchanted forest, where you can see life-sized lighted animal sculptures, an all-new dollhouse village, and holiday trains chugging through the landscape.  A popular feature with guests is “Holly Berry,” the 1957 Cadillac that features thousands of vibrant lights dancing in time to joyful music.  See a quick clip of Holly Berry performing at last year’s event by clicking here.


A female elephant calf has been born at the Albuquerque BioPark.  She is the seventh member of the zoo’s herd.  Her sister, Daizy (born in 1992) was the BioPark’s first elephant birth.


OCT - BFZ - gorilla

Buffalo Zoo – “Lily” and baby

The gorilla troop at the Buffalo Zoo now numbers five with their recent birth.  The baby girl is the 10th gorilla born at the zoo since 1990.  The previous birth was Amari, a female born in October 2010.


The San Francisco Zoo also had a female gorilla born last summer.  The previous gorilla birth at the zoo was in 2008 when Hasani, the now four-year old male, was born.


On September 5th, Utah’s Hogle Zoo hosted its 16th annual fundraising gala – Zoo Rendevous.  Over 1500 people were in attendance, making it the biggest gala in the zoo’s history. This year’s theme represented a Mardi Gras party.  SSA’s Taste of the Wild Catering served New Orleans-style fare at two booths.  The Voodoo Shack served Hurricane Sorbet and Bourbon Street served smoked chicken and sausage gumbo with spicy black bean and corn beignet with a chipotle aioli.

With Bourbon Street and the House of Blues, this New Orleans-style party treated guests to delicious food and drink, animal encounters, a silent auction, and live music from several musicians, including NBC The Voice contestant, Aquile & The Orbit.  The night was a great success!



OCT - SFZ - bugs exhibit

Big Bugs: Outside the Box

The San Francisco Zoo recently opened the exhibit Big Bugs: Outside the Box.   It features butterflies with five-foot wingspans and four-foot long beetles.  Also included are “touch zones” of enlarged insect body parts, and stations to learn about camouflage tactics ecology.

Pretend City Children’s Museum celebrated Halloween month by introducing The Bug Bog, a new interactive scavenger “haunt.”  The eight dazzling and busy bug-filled areas engaged children in discovering and learning about various insects and bugs. Each experience included a collection of take-home trading cards.   There’s nothing better than creepy-crawlies to get in the spirit.

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