From Classroom to Concessions: Curt Prchal’s Winning Strategy

July 1, 2024

Article and photos by Renata Haidle

“Just like great athletes who come to practice to practice, these are kids who come to work, to work,” he says. “So, you put them in the right spot, and then you just get out of the way. You tell them what you expect, and when they have that autonomy, that's a pretty healthy workplace environment.”

"Don’t make the story about how long I’ve been doing this,” Curt Prchal asked me during a recent visit to Dehler Park. We chatted about baseball, gourmet burgers, and many other things. Of course, this story is not about the length of his career, but it would be amiss to overlook the fact that he has been doing this labor of love for 32 years. 

As Dehler Park's food and beverage director, Curt Prchal has been brewing something special, well beyond the typical ballpark fare. Here, amidst the crowd's cheers and the crack of the bat, this retired educator fosters a vibrant work environment and a team unlike any other: two-thirds of his employees are high school students, while the other third have graduated and are now in college. With a passion for youth development, Prchal has spent decades building relationships with the young people he employs and empowering them to become the best they can be. This, he believes, is the cornerstone of his success.

Gone are the days of filling open positions with unknown applicants at a job fair. Curt Prchal has developed a strategic partnership with local schools like Will James and Ben Steele, volunteering at their greenhouses and getting to know the students long before they apply for jobs at the Dehler Park concession stands. This foresight translates into a dynamic, cohesive team of enthusiastic high schoolers eager to learn and contribute. “These kids,” Prchal says, “they’re academics, honor roll kids, valedictorians, and also athletes from all sports. We try to teach them the difference between school and work; one is not better than the other - just understand that they're different and they require a different skill set.” 

But enthusiasm alone doesn't win games (or manage concession stands). Prchal is clear about his selection criteria. He prioritizes students who demonstrate strong work ethic, punctuality, and initiative. Such traits are crucial for success both at the baseball field and in life. 

One might expect a high turnover rate with such a young workforce. But Dehler Park boasts a remarkable 85% retention rate, a testimonial to the positive work environment Prchal cultivates. Here, students aren't just cogs in a machine; they are valued team members. Curt Prchal encourages his staff to grow, allowing them to make decisions, solve problems, and celebrate their achievements. This creates a sense of ownership and accountability, fostering a team that's efficient and deeply invested in the ballpark's success.

Beyond fostering a positive atmosphere for his staff, Prchal's vision extends to the food itself. Dehler Park understands that today's fans demand more than just the traditional stadium fare of hot dogs and nachos. While their signature ‘Stang Burger remains a crowd-pleaser, the menu boasts a variety of options to cater to diverse palates. For fans seeking a more upscale experience, the recent addition of eight premium tables offers wait staff service and an expanded menu, transforming the ballpark into a casual dining destination.

This commitment to quality goes well beyond the food. Curt Prchal's spirit of community permeates the entire Dehler Park experience. Season ticket holders become familiar faces, striking up friendly conversations with staff who may have served them hot dogs the previous season. Former staff members often return during games, reminiscing about their time and catching up with old friends. It just goes to show Prchal's positive and lasting impact on everyone who's been a part of the Dehler Park family.

For Curt Prchal, the joy comes not just from the smooth operation of the food service on game days but from witnessing the personal growth of his young staff. He emphasizes the importance of life skills learned beyond the details of concession stand operations — things like teamwork, communication, and time management. These lessons stay with them long after their final game, serving them well in their academic pursuits and future careers.

Once in a while, he has people come to him and say, You don’t understand retirement. “I turn it right on,” Curt Prchal says, “and I say to them: you don’t understand retirement. This is a job that I can still do. I get to do it, so I'm going to do it because I have a lot of fun. We're just one big family here, and that’s not a cliché. Seeing these young people come out of their shells, develop confidence, and learn valuable life lessons — that is the real reward.” SLM

Originally printed in the July 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

Check this article out in the digital issue of Simply Local here!

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