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We’re excited to have such a strong partner as we continue to grow and improve the Houston Zoo – Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo President and CEO

The Houston Zoo recently selected Denver-based Service System Associates (SSA) to become the exclusive culinary provider at the park. For the past fourteen years, SSA has successfully operated the retail merchandise services at the attraction. As a visitor services industry leader, SSA plans to use its expertise to take the zoo’s culinary operations into a new era by focusing on fresh cuisine using outstanding service concepts.

“We are pleased to enter a new partnership with SSA, who has consistently demonstrated commitment to the values we hold dear: attention to detail, concern for the best in guest service and a keen understanding of our conservation mission,” said Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo President and CEO. “We believe SSA will provide innovative service at the highest level, and we’re excited to have such a strong partner as we continue to grow and improve the Houston Zoo,” he added.

The partnership with the Houston Zoo promises to be a success as both partners embrace a similar culture toward people, and they plan to leverage that synergy to provide the highest quality food served by engaged and friendly staff with an emphasis on quality and value.

“We are delighted to assume the culinary operations at the Houston Zoo and look forward to working with zoo staff to provide exemplary and sustainable hospitality to guests,” said Sean McNicholas, President and CEO of SSA. “We will work together to create a distinctive dining experience, which will be focused on quality, innovation and unparalleled service,” he added.

Chris Lyons, the zoo’s Chief Operating Officer elaborated about the partnership. He said, “SSA was selected because it offered a well thought out strategic plan. SSA and the Houston Zoo will have a relationship that is a true partnership rather than a client-tenant arrangement. SSA understands that we expect the highest quality food matched with the finest service.”

He added that the zoo’s goal is very simple: to be the best zoo-based conservation organization in the U.S. Lyons explained that food and beverage and merchandise offerings must match that objective in quality, size, service and value. SSA is the perfect partner for what will become a complete reimagining of the Houston Zoo over the next phase of growth.

With 2.4 million visitors annually, the award-winning Houston Zoo is among the top ten zoos in the country in attendance and is one of Houston’s most visited cultural attractions. Its 55 acres features naturalistic habitats including African Forest, Natural Encounters and Children’s Zoo. Home to 6,000 animals representing more than 600 species, the Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which assures the highest standards of animal care. Its mission is to provide a fun, unique and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge and care for the natural world.


Headquartered in Denver, Service Systems Associates manages retail and culinary amenities at more than 50 museums, botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums in the United States. The company is a national leader in guest service operations for cultural attractions, serving over 26 million guests annually.

Founded in 1922 and operated by the not-for-profit Houston Zoo, Inc., the Houston Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of endangered species, the provision of engaging educational opportunities and the creation of stimulating exhibits that broaden the experiences of our guests and encourage their curiosity. Set in a 55-acre lush tropical landscape, the zoo is home to more than 6,000 exotic animals representing more than 800 species. The Houston Zoo is located at 6200 Hermann Park Drive in beautiful Hermann Park. The zoo is open daily at 9 a.m. and closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Our mission is to connect communities with animals, inspiring action to save wildlife.

The Houston Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. With 228 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.