For Convention, CNN Gets Into Restaurant Business

CNN Grill Offers Excellent Event Presence ... and CNN Brew

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Credit: Ken Wheaton
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DENVER ( -- CNN claims to have the best political team on television, but this year it's vying for a new honor: the best restaurant at the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Demonstrating the confluence of TV and internet production, advertising and publicity -- at least during special events -- CNN, like rival Fox, has taken over restaurants at the conventions.

Here in Denver, both restaurants are in high-profile locations inside the security perimeter as delegates arrive.

CNN is using its restaurants as venues for the network's shows, temporary offices for network correspondents, places to entertain advertising clients and the press and giant promotional platforms for delegates, media and advertisers.

Scot Safon, exec VP-chief marketing officer of CNN Worldwide, says the CNN Grill is an expansion of what the company did four years ago when CNN turned a New York eatery into the CNN Diner during the GOP convention. As it turned out, CNN ended up producing shows from there.

"It was branded entertainment for CNN," he said. When it came time to plan for the 2008 conventions, he said, everybody wanted it.

(We'll have more about Fox's restaurant in another report.)

The original CNN Diner in New York was an idea dreamed up by Civic Entertainment Group, New York, and CNN turned to the shop again to do restaurants at the current conventions. Here in Denver, the team converted Brooklyn's, which sits just outside the Pepsi Center, into the CNN Grill. In St. Paul, it will convert the Eagle Street Grill. This time the restaurants are double the size.

The makeovers aren't minor, either.

CNN not only repainted the restaurant in its familiar red, it changed all the upholstery, posted neon signs inside and erected a giant neon "CNN Grill" sign outside. As an extra touch meant to fit with the style of the aged red-brick building, it painted intentionally faded blurbs about politics on the exterior.

CNN then brought in New York restaurateur Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group and chef Michael Romano to develop a menu, and came up with its own CNN Brew, a red ale from a local brewery.

The inside makeover happened in 48 hours, and the outside in four days. CNN isn't paying just to use the restaurants and convert them. It's paying to convert them back. CNN is also paying to move major elements from Denver to St. Paul. The giant outside sign gets taken down at 2 a.m. Friday and shipped to St. Paul, where it is due to be installed Saturday morning.

Mr. Safon declines to reveal costs but says that the restaurants save CNN the logistical nightmares and other expenses associated with holding its various convention events all over town.

"It is a very cost-effective way of doing a combination of production, hospitality and marketing presence," he said.

He said that the Denver restaurant has five sittings that have been completely booked by advertisers.

Stuart Ruderfer and David N. Cohn, co-founder of Civic Entertainment Group, credit Mr. Safon for recognizing the potential impact of the diner four years ago and giving the go-ahead. They said they are also producing convention-related events in New York for the final night of the Democratic and Republican conventions, including public viewings of convention speeches in Times Square.