Wild Connections – 2014 Fall Edition





Many know that the philosophy of SSA is more than contracts and business deals. It’s all about relationships and making our partners’ priorities our priorities. Whether it’s helping host a dinner or sponsor an event or donate retail products or culinary, SSA is there to help. Over the past few years, this offer of support has included the use of the company’s aircraft to transport animals, such as flying a cheetah from Cincinnati to New York for an appearance on the “Today Show,” transporting a tiger from Tulsa to Tacoma, and now bringing Tasmanian devils to Albuquerque.
After 10 years of work, the ABQ Biopark received word in late 2013 that four devils were starting the long trek across the world from Australia to Albuquerque. However, Australian officials put the four carnivorous marsupials on two separate commercial flights in mid-December and that two of them would have to go through Denver and arrive several hours after the pair. Zoo officials were concerned about this travel plan and contacted Tim Brantley, SSA President, to see if the company’s plane could be used to shorten the travel time for these animals. Tim enthusiastically responded yes and made it happen. The plane flew to Albuquerque to pick up Rick Janser, the Biopark Director, as well as Androo Kelly, a Tasmanian devil expert who had been helping with the project. The plane continued its journey to Los Angeles to pick up the animals. After a delay in clearing customs and the need to switch travel crates to smaller ones so that all four crates would fit in the plane, the devils made their way to the new home in Albuquerque.

After the animals arrival in Albuquerque, Rick said he was grateful for SSA’s contribution. “They’re not just a company looking to make money, but a partner in our facility that cares and is willing to do what they can to help us out.”
Since their arrival, the devils have proved to be popular with BioPark guests. The only other U.S. facility to gain approval to exhibit this endangered species was the San Diego Zoo.



louisville zoo logoPolar bears, gorillas, tigers, elephants, snakes, frogs, eagles and frogs are some of the 1,700 animals that can all be seen at the 134-acre Louisville Zoo. Founded in 1969, more than 700,000 guests each year visit the zoo’s award-winning Islands, Gorilla Forest and Glacier Run exhibits, which have been recognized by AZA for their excellence and innovation.  Other exhibits include Africa, Australian Outback, the HerpAquarium and the Metazoo Education Center. To complement this wonderful attraction, the SSA team redesigned the guest experience through building renovations and customer service training.

Interestingly, it’s one of the few accounts that SSA lost, then after several years was selected to manage the retail and culinary operations again. The zoo rejoined the SSA family in late 2013.

During the busy spring and summer season, about 120 SSA employees deliver outstanding customer service to guests. They staff seven culinary locations, five culinary carts, three retail locations and one retail cart. The SSA team helps with the World’s Largest Halloween Party where more than 70,000 guests attend the 14-night event. Other zoo events, such as Santa Safari with 8,000 guests and Brew at the Zoo with 3,500 guests, also receive special attention.

According to SSA GM Brett Taylor, the staff is the best dressed one of all the accounts. He claims it’s due to his military background as well as the desire to look as sharp as their skill in satisfying the needs of both the zoo guest and zoo employees.

The SSA management team includes Brett Taylor (General Manager), Stephanie Gray (Assistant GM/Catering Director), John Bird (Executive Chef), Shane Eberhard (Culinary Operations Manager), Dawn Nelms (Retail Operations Manager), Morgan Rost (Catering Operations Manager), Amy Hilton (Unit Controller), Joe Barrette (Assistant Culinary Operations Manager), Maddie Hoekstra (Assistant Unit Controller), Richard Squier (Warehouse Manager), Brenna O’Daniel-Munger (Café Manager).



louisville gift shop inside lousiville gift shop inside 2 lousiville zoo gift shop outerWhen SSA took over the Louisville Zoo account in November 2013, one of the driving factors in Zoo Director John Walczak’s decision was a complete overall of the main gift shop. Prior to SSA’s arrival, the zoo’s retail department was self-operated, and they faced serious financial challenges with updating their stores being a non-profit city run zoo. SSA executives saw the writing on the wall and decided to allocate a large portion of the capital investment funds on a complete renovation of the main gift shop. The outside façade was tired and had no pop to it. To make the entrance visually interesting, an environmental friendly “green” IPE wood was used and it looks absolutely stunning. The dark wood draws the guests in and puts off an extremely classy and inviting ambiance. An animal totem that is similar to the one at the front entrance was installed as a focal point in the middle of the store. The interior flooring from the 1980’s, yes the 1980’s, received a significant upgrade to a stylish vinyl hardwood flooring that SSA’s COO, Eric Loyall had stated, “This floor should be in every gift shop!”

As for the rest of the renovations, the cash wrap was moved to better assist with the flow of the store, and automated doors were installed for easy entrance and exit. It merchandises f hot selling items. Overall, the store has seen an increased per cap and top line sales that can be attributed to the renovation, EXTRA-trained staff, a brand-new spillout program and a phenomenal array of product brought in from regional buyer, Julie Hurst. The zoo’s President of the Board Debbie King stated, “This is absolutely spectacular. You feel as if you’re in a completely different space.”



As part of an effort to conserve resources and cultivate an eco-conscious image, many companies across the nation are adopting environmentally friendly business practices.   And SSA is no different.   For the past several years, the company has adopted green practices at its various accounts because as it pays to be green.

Several of the restaurants that are SSA partners have become certified by the Green Restaurant Association. Utah’s Hogle Zoo is the latest to achieve this recognition.

The Beastro and the Shoreline Grill at the zoo are the first attraction that has two green restaurant designations in Utah.   The restaurants recently earned two star designations. According to Seth Palmer, SSA General Manager at the zoo, “It made sense to earn this designation as it’s a good thing for zoo guests to understand that we walk the talk. We ask guests to be conservation wise, and so we need to do it.” He added that the conservation begins at home.

At the Salt Lake City zoo, the SSA staff plans to work toward achieving a four-star designation. There is only one other restaurant in the state with GRA designation.

The Arctic Food Court at the Detroit Zoo was the first zoo concession in the country to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association, earning a two-star designation in 2010. Some of the restaurant’s eco-friendly practices include cutlery made from potato starch and soybean oil, a programmable thermostat, touchless sensor faucets and increased recycling.

Early in 2014, the Cincinnati Zoo’s Base Camp Cafe was certified by the Green Restaurant Association with four stars, its highest rating. Only 15 restaurants in the nation have achieved that distinction, and none with as many points as Base Camp received.

Founded in Boston in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association evaluates restaurants and awards points based on water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, sustainable furnishings and building materials, energy, disposables and chemical pollution reduction. To receive green certification, a restaurant must meet the minimum requirements in each category, continue yearly education on green practices, be polystyrene foam- free and have a full-scale recycling program.


The SSA Retail Division has undergone some changes. Patrick Brown was promoted to Senior Vice President – Retail Operations. Jacquelyn Sorvillo was recently promoted to Retail Vice President. She joined the company as a Buyer in November 2013. She will be responsible for merchandise strategies as well as product development and purchasing.

retail teamNew buyers include Chris Lake, Denver Zoo; Laurel Cunningham, Royal Gorge and National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Karen Wiatrowski, Houston Zoo and Hermann Park. Neil Almalbis was promoted to Visual Director.

What’s new in retail offerings? To find out, the SSA Retail Team attended the recent sold-out Las Vegas Souvenir and Resort Gift Show recorded an increase in attendance over the 2013 edition, previously the largest in its nine-year history.  Featuring more than 1,200 booths showcasing thousands of lines at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the show attracted the nation’s top retailers from all 50 states, as well as 29 foreign countries. The SSA not only made purchases, but held meetings to plan for a successful 2015 year. Buyers who attended were Kim Black, Laurel Wright, Laura Ginnebaugh, Johnna Walker, Chris Lake, Julie Hurst, Hillary McClellan, Christine Jamison, Eileen Rodriguez, Laurel Cunningham, Kim Borges, Karen Wiatrowski, Denise DeMont, Tammy Keener and Maura Rogers. Visual Director Neil Almalbis also attended.

Executives participating in the event included Eric Loyall, COO, Jacki Sorvillo, VP Retail Merchandise, Patrick Brown, SVP Retail, Tracie Skretny, VP Retail, Travis Kight, Corporate Executive Chef, and Neil Almalbis, Visual Director.



It was a busy summer at The Autry National Center of the American West. One of the popular events is Sizzling Summer Nights series, held Thursday evenings, July 10 – August 14, 6 – 9 p.m. This all-ages outdoor dance party featured the best salsa and Latin fusion bands in Los Angeles, plus dance lessons. Guests enjoyed hot-off-the-grill food, ice-cold drinks and spirits, access to the museum galleries, a separate children’s dance floor and more. A popular eating spot was the taco and drink bar.

The fourth Annual Brew at the L.A. Zoo featured an after-hours visit to the Los Angeles Zoo with beer samples from 35+ local craft and microbreweries, music by three local bands, pub-style grub for purchase and visits to zoo exhibits. Among the vast, international “grub” selections prepared by the SSA culinary staff were gourmet burgers, hand-crafted sandwiches, artisan salads, Italian sausages and bratwursts, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, chicken cheesesteak sandwiches and handcrafted sliders. Other items included street tacos, Southern fried chicken with buttermilk coleslaw, bbq pulled pork with buttermilk coleslaw, tamales, Asian street food, Korean kalbi shortribs and kimchi tacos.

nashville zoo + ssa staffEric and Heather Loyall, left, Erin Rado and Mark Kathman attend the Sunset Safari 2014, a fundraiser for the Nashville Zoo. The event is the zoo’s premier annual soiree of eats, drinks and animals. This year’s theme, Make Tracks, celebrates the arrival of Andean bears at the zoo in 2015. SSA sponsored the Patron Party and Executive Chef David Miller created exclusive appetizers and specialty drinks to serve at that party.


Dallas Zoo Garden 

dallas zoo Garden Photo4Organic lettuce, tomatoes, basil, radishes, cabbage, green beans – it’s what’s for lunch at the Dallas Zoo, for both guests and animals. With the help of Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, zoo staff is harvesting produce to feed four- and two-legged friends.

Across the zoo’s 106-acres, multiple gardens have been planted to grow food for the animals, as well as bulk “browse gardens” filled with woody plants for large herbivores. And to feed guests, there’s a 400-square-foot organic chef’s garden used to create lunch specials at Prime Meridian Cafe. “It’s not just hamburgers and hotdogs at the zoo,” Chef Bevis said. “We’re creating unique, fresh and organic dishes every day. We take a lot of pride in our garden – watching it grow gives me an incredible amount of pleasure.”


Detroit Zoo Director, Dr. Ron Kagan, helps delivers some of the plush animals to patients at local hospitals.

detroit zoo plush charactersHundreds of animals – including tigers, monkeys, red pandas, penguins, giraffes and polar bears – are leaving the Detroit Zoo and finding their way to local hospitals. More than 700 plush versions of the animals are being donated to Beaumont Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan DMC for distribution to pediatric patients, thanks to the generosity of zoo visitors.

Since Memorial Day, patrons of the zoo’s gift shop, Zoofari Market, have been offered the opportunity to purchase a plush animal at a discounted price to be donated to hospitalized children. The philanthropic idea was the brainchild of employees of Service Systems Associates (SSA), which operates the zoo’s culinary and retail services.

“This program was completely funded through the kindness of SSA employees and the generosity of our guests, members and staff,” said Paul Good, Detroit Zoological Society community relations manager. “Thanks to them, we are able to brighten the lives of many children who are ill or injured.”

SSA plans to continue collecting the stuffed animals for donation to pediatric patients indefinitely.



At the recent annual Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conference, Steve Burns, Director, Zoo Boise, was elected to the office of Chair-Elect. He’ll be the chair of the association 2015 – 2016.

steve burns New AZA Board members include Steve Marshall, Director, El Paso Zoo. Other SSA partners represented on the Board include Jim Hekkers, Managing Director, Monterey Bay Aquarium; Gregg Hudson, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Dallas Zoo Management Inc.; and John T. Walczak, Director, Louisville Zoological Garden. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and six other countries. It also is a leader in saving species and helping animals all over the world.

Also at the conference, several partners received awards.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s Sea Lion Cove exhibit earned the 2014 Top Honor Exhibit Award from AZA. It’s the national organization’s highest honor for exhibits, chosen out of applications from other members including the San Diego Zoo, the Smithsonian and Sea World. The $10.5 million Sea Lion Cove opened to zoo visitors in August 2012, and features a 240,000 gallon pool with rock features making a home for three sea lions, two harbor seals and two brown pelicans that can be seen from above or in an underwater viewing area.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also received top design honors from AZA for its Encounter Africa exhibit, a $13.5 million, 10-acre addition that opened in 2013 to showcase elephants, lions, meerkats and black rhinoceros.

Denver Zoo was awarded AZA’s Significant Achievement in Education Award for its Toyota Elephant Passage Education Program.   Forty-four new programs were developed to engage a wide range of audiences in stories related to, and about, the human and animal connections in Southeast Asia.

The Detroit Zoological Society was named the 2014 Green Award winner by AZA. The award recognizes the zoo’s Greenprint initiative, a comprehensive strategic and operations plan that guides the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo to create a greener environment for visitors, animals and the planet.



Buffalo Zoo Mummy 2

The museum is on track to break the 100,000 mark for visitor attendance. The exhibit features 45 mummies and includes mummies owned by the Buffalo Museum of Science and the Buffalo History Museum, which have been added to the national tour. In addition to entire human body mummies, the exhibit includes a mummified cat, the mummified remains of a falcon and shrunken heads from Ecuador.

A four-year-old wish kid Abby named the newest macaroni penguin Cakey-Wakey at a recent event at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. The penguin is just the second to have hatched at the zoo. Abby named the penguin Cakey-Wakey because she likes cake.

The Saint Louis Science Center recently received two honors: it was named the “Best Place for a First Date” for its First Fridays, and it received the 2014 Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) Achievement Award for the Best Film Launch by a Theater for D-Day Normandy 1944.

binder park corks for conservationHighlights of Binder Park Zoo’s 38th season, which ended October 5, included a new black bear exhibit as well as an official unveiling of a capital campaign set to bring lions to the 433 acre wildlife park. Another highlight was Corks for Conservation, Corks for Conservation wine tasting event where guests enjoyed the zoo after-hours with live music, delicious hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and live animal presentations.




The Maryland Zoo recently opened its first new major exhibit in a decade. The new, $11 million Penguin Coast mimics a makeshift South African fishing camp, and it sits in the center of a ring of water, so the penguins can swim in circles past an enclosed underwater viewing area. There are about 60 penguins, and zoo officials hope to expand the number to 100 in the next three years. The zoo is considered one of North America’s most robust breeding grounds for African penguins. Nearly 1,000 chicks born there now live at zoos in other cities.




SSA Staff unloaded, unpacked and created displays in the new gift shop at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.

Nearly 15 months after a wildfire destroyed all but four of its 52 structures, the park reopened the first of September with a new visitor’s center, gift shop, a miniature one-mile railroad and expectations that a second reconstruction phase will be ready in November. The second phase includes a gondola system that can carry 48 passengers per trip, two zip lines and 188-seat theater.

Minnesota Zoo recently broke ground on a 30,000-square-foot nature-based outdoor play area. The $1.2 million Hanifl Family Wild Woods is scheduled to open in July 2015.   The area will feature boulder climbs and caves, a climbing horse, log pile climb, mazes, slides, tree top towers with bridges, monkey bars and more.

By 2020, the Nashville Zoo predicts its attendance and the number of animals on exhibit will double as a result of a recently announced $160 million expansion plan. New animals on exhibit include lions, rhinos, cheetahs, gorillas, hippos, penguins and other species. The first completed exhibits will be the Andean bears and spider monkeys, which should be finished by fall 2015.

The exhibit, RACE: Are We So Different?, recently opened at The History Colorado Center. Developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, RACE is the first exhibition that tells the stories of race from the biological, cultural and historical point of view.  Museum staff believes that this exhibit will encourage visitors and community groups to explore the science, history and everyday impact of race.


Pretend City cakePretend City Children’s Museum celebrated its fifth anniversary with a party on August 29. The museum features a small, interconnected city designed to “build better brains” through purposeful play, hands-on learning experiences, role playing, and educational programming. Exhibits include a bank, grocery store, post office, marina, beach and more.




Zoo Boise staff have been renovating the former Amur leopard exhibit to house a second sloth bear as Jack, an eight-year-male, arrived at the zoo to breed with Paji. In the wild, sloth bears are solitary except during mating season and when females are raising young. The zoo’s sloth bears will each rotate between two exhibits, the original sloth bear exhibit and a newly renovated exhibit next to it. Zookeepers will slowly introduce the two bears during breeding season next summer. With only 4,000 – 5,000 sloth bears remaining in the wild, the goal of this breeding match through the AZA Species Survival Plan is to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population for these animals.

Some new friends are eating away a poison ivy nuisance in the Dallas Zoo’s chimp and gorilla habitats. When the zoo closes, and the primates are safely in their night quarters, these nature’s lawnmowers are brought in and plow straight through the toxic vegetation with ease.

Denver Zoo female Amur tiger Zaria was sent to the Asahiyama Zoo in Japan, along with a male tiger from Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Together, they will help maintain a sustainable and genetically diverse population around the world through cooperation with the Amur Tiger Global Species Management Plan. Amur tigers are classified as critically endangered, with an estimated population of less than 500 individuals remaining in the wild.




A pygmy hippo calf was recently born at the Louisville Zoo. At birth, the calf weighed 16 pounds.

A great blue turaco chick recently hatched at the Nashville Zoo. The female chick is the fourth to hatch at the zoo since acquiring the species in 2009. Though not considered endangered in the native range of central Africa, their habitat is extremely vulnerable due to logging and war.

After being born during the summer, a female red panda cub is now on exhibit at the Nashville Zoo. It was the first birth of this species at the zoo.

Francisco Zoo had four Chilean flamingo chicks hatch.







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