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Rooting for Sweets

May 24, 2000|JENNIFER LOWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a brisk knock, Neil Kaplan pushes inside Suite C37, one of the 170 luxury suites at Staples Center, to announce dessert. Forget the Cracker Jacks. Besides being able to order from a special menu, sports fans in the big boxes get a Volkswagen-sized cart carrying cheesecakes, a 6-inch-tall carrot cake, giant caramel apples, bags of M&Ms, stacks of cookies, biscotti, espresso bars the size of Shaq's foot, candy turtles and little chocolate cups to be filled with liqueurs.

"If you only wanted to watch a game, you'd be home watching it on TV," server Kaplan says loudly, speaking over monitors blaring the Lakers playoff game in the suite. A cappuccino cart wheels past him.

Take whatever you want; the bill will go to your suite's owner. Most people certainly do. Since the season began, the cart has caused a circus as it rolls from suite to suite, with the average suite fan choosing 2 1/2 desserts.

"We had a suite once that took everything," says Gardeina Williams, the "dessert girl" who keeps the tab for each suite's loot.

There actually are 22 carts roaming the three levels of suites. They start the day in a pantry, where they're loaded with desserts made in the arena's kitchens and some that are shipped in.

The cart debuted in 1984 at Comisky Park in Chicago. It was the brainchild of Levy Restaurants, which holds the luxury-food contracts for 19 sports venues around the country, including Edison Field in Anaheim and Dodger Stadium. For a presentation to executives at Dodger Stadium, Levy officials took shrimp and other fancy fare. But the dessert cart was what caused the stir, says Michael Thoms, executive chef for Levy at Staples Center.

"People want to see big," says Thoms, who decided that the carrot cake--one of the cart's most popular items--should double in stature this year from its paltry 3-inch height.

But while the carts created somewhat of a mob scene earlier this year, all has been calm during the Laker playoff games. Who says L.A. fans are fickle? Serious fans are not leaving their suites for cheesecake.

Leslie Mace, though, has ventured outside her suite to sip Bailey's from a chocolate cup. A cheer goes up from the game, but she pays no attention. "It's almost like this is a nice social evening and that," she says, waving her dessert toward championship play behind her, "is in the background."

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