Gregory Forzley's day-to-day work is far from dull, whether he's feeding thousands of hungry Atlanta Falcons fans or planning the menu for "Swifties" attending a multi-day Taylor Swift concert.
Forzley ’08 serves as vice president of hospitality strategy for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. His path to managing food and beverage for a large sports and entertainment venue started in New England, first as a kid working at his family’s restaurant in Maine, and then as a hospitality management student at the University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics as well as working in the hospitality field on New Hampshire's Seacoast.
Like many professionals in the hospitality industry, Forzley's career path included stints at various types of restaurants and hotels, each offering unique insights and skills. However, the opportunity to merge his professional background with his passion for sports proved impossible to ignore.
“The people that I've seen be successful in the sports and entertainment world are those who came from hotel and restaurant backgrounds. They usually come in and they're used to the hours worked and the time put into it, and in some cases, it's even a little bit of a reprieve for these individuals because they have a little bit more time for themselves,” Forley says.
In his role, Forzley oversees the entire food and beverage operation at the stadium, which can hold up to 70,000 people depending on the event, and manages a team of about 1,500 people.
“I oversee anything that involves food and beverage and any strategic planning around it,” Forzley says. “The strategic piece focuses on what’s new and innovative in the industry, whether that’s frictionless technology, autonomous bartending solutions or something as simple as curating our food and beverage story through local offerings.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium has earned a reputation for offering the most fan-friendly food and beverage price options among sporting venues, and Forzley collaborates with multiple partners to maintain this reputation while providing a high-quality menu.
The stadium operates year-round, is home to the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United and holds several significant college football games, including the annual Peach Bowl. Additionally, the facility hosts private events and major concerts featuring prominent artists like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Ed Sheeran.
“It’s a fun environment. My favorite part of this job is that it’s never the same, every day is always something different, a new challenge,” Forzley says. “A lot of people come here and spend their hard-earned money, and sometimes it's a one-off event for fans who waited a long time to come to a particular event. Our food and beverage team has the most touch points at these events outside of ticket takers and the ushers, so we’re a big part of curating those special moments for fans when they come to the stadium.”
Forzley’s team uses data and analytics to plan menus for the different events and will collaborate with his employer, Levy, and other Levy-associated sports venues.
“We had three concerts with Taylor Swift earlier this year and her demographic is completely different from what we’d plan for an Atlanta Falcons game, so it’s important to share information from venue to venue,” Forzley said.
According to Forzley, data shows that the top-selling items at a Taylor Swift concert typically include chicken tenders and fries, water and other non-alcoholic beverages, while Atlanta Falcons fans prefer hot dogs, barbeque products and beer.
Studying at UNH was an easy decision for Forzley based on the strength of the hospitality management program and the positive experiences that multiple family members had in Durham, starting with his grandfather John David DuRie ’38.
“I think the biggest thing I learned at UNH was the importance of relationships,” Forzley says. “It has helped me in my current role, where a lot of my job is being a liaison between the stadium group and my food and beverage team. It’s my job to build relationships with the people in the organization, and I think it's one of my biggest strengths, and I attribute that to my time at UNH.”
Relationship building also helped Forzley along his career path. During his senior year at UNH a professor helped him get a job at Wentworth by the Sea, where he gained experience with fine dining and the banquet and catering businesses. He parlayed that experience into his first job after college working for Wentworth’s parent company, Ocean Properties Hotels Resorts and Affiliates.
During the next eight years, Forzley worked in various management roles at multiple hotels and restaurants in Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. The experience gave him a well-rounded view of the food and beverage industry. After multiple promotions, he was recruited by Levy to work at the Miami Heat’s arena, where he managed food and beverage for premium areas, which included suites, clubs and catering. He worked his way up to director of operations at the arena before moving on to his current role in Atlanta in 2022.
Forzley says he uses lessons from UNH and his family's restaurant business in his management style, particularly when he encourages his employees to treat the business like their own. He also draws on lessons from his previous leader in Miami on mentoring employees.
“I love seeing my team members, leaders and managers grow in their roles and be promoted into their next positions and continue to learn,” he says. “I always tell my employees that when you’re working with me, if you’re in your position for more than two years, then I’m doing something wrong. I want to see them succeed and give them the tools to run the races they can win.”