President of the River City Rascals. The title brings to mind serious suits, plush offices and assistants doing the president's bidding, doesn't it?
In reality, Tony Funderburg's job as the Rascal's prez is totally serious, but his corporate attire is baseball casual. The only thing plush about his tiny office is the mattress on the cot he's stashed for nights when he finishes work too late to drive home. And, he does his own bidding. Sure, he's got the corporate stuff on his shoulders.
"I run the club from a business standpoint," he says. "Making money. Selling, buying. Leading. Inspiring the staff. At the end of the season, everybody's tired, working round the clock, and I've learned when to push and when to pull back. I try to keep it fun."
One way Funderburg keeps the job fun is through food, ballpark food, that is. And, he's darn good at it.
Remember the Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburger? His idea. The aroma of burgers grilled, crisp bacon, gooey cheese and the sweet smell of glazed donuts wafted through the stands and made beaucoup bucks for the team he managed back then, the Gateway Grizzlies. The Krispy Kreme marketing engine taught Funderburg a good bit about the benefits of partnering as well.
"In 2004, the Chicago Sun Times credited me with changing the face of ballpark food," he says.
Although Funderburg creates relationships with suppliers, potential partners, club owners and staff, he knows the Rascals' most important relationship is with their fans.
"I don't want to hear a disappointed fan say, ‘I can't believe this [food] cost $5.' I want to hear, ‘Can you believe this only cost five bucks? This is fantastic.' "
He looks for creative combinations of food the average person loves and then puts a new twist on them. "Sometimes, I'll take $50 to the grocery, find interesting things and throw them together at home," he says.
When he travels, he talks food with the locals to find unique fare. Right now, he's hooked on tri-tip sandwiches from out West and sushi. He'd like to find a way to make sushi work in a ballpark. "This won't happen," he says, "but it's my favorite idea. Chicago-style sushi. The saltiness of a beef dog, the snap of a pickle, the tempura batter. But there are just not enough people who can roll sushi."
Funderburg is just finishing his first season with the Rascals. Next year, the fans will probably see the "Funderburg influence" hit the concessions. In the meantime, he's got a built-in test market for his ideas: family.
"If my wife, Cathie, and my boys (6-year-old twins, Will and Landon, and three year-old, Nolan) can afford to eat at the ballpark, and love the food, that's success," he says.