Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson

For once, it’s great to be in the Penalty Box

For those who spent a good deal of time at the Stettler Recreation Centre last fall, a return this fall will bring at least one surprise.

For those parents, grandparents, siblings and hockey fans who spent a good deal of time at the Stettler Recreation Centre last hockey season, a return this fall will bring at least one surprise.

That surprise is Nelson’s Penalty Box, the new and improved concession that is now open to the public.

Run by Karen Nelson and her daughter, Holly Nelson, the duo and their supportive spouses – who also work the Penalty Box – have, through the dint of a great deal of elbow grease, scoured the concession from top to bottom.

A fresh coat of paint and new countertops add to the fresh look, which matches the fresh menu options now available.

“It’s not just about deep-fried arena food,” Karen Nelson said. “I’d never even heard of taco-in-a-bag before.”

While the hockey rink food mainstays – burgers, fries, and hotdogs are still on the menu, those have changed as well. Fresh-cut fries replace the old and the burgers “are to die for,” Karen Nelson said.

Fresh daily soups, salads, fruit cups and veggie cups are all made by hand.

“There’s no powdered gravy here,” Karen Nelson noted. “I make it from the drippings from roasts, so every batch is a little different.”

Sandwiches are made to order and are made from fresh meats or fresh deli meats, and the staff are taking great care to date the containers and move the new ingredients to the back.

“There won’t be a lot of waste,” Karen Nelson said. “We’re taking it slow until we know how much we need. But people won’t be getting old food, either.”

Even frozen foods are dated, Karen Nelson noted.

The Penalty Box is quite the family affair, with son Rodney Nelson, daughter Amy-Jo Nelson, and Holly Nelson’s husband, Rick Camara, coming in to help out.

The opportunity came available when the Town of Stettler decided to not renew the contract of the previous tenant, who had been installed for the previous two years. The contracts are annual, but Lee Penner, director of recreation for the town, said that they wanted to give the occupants a second year in case the first year’s performance was a case of first-year jitters.

When the request for proposal went out, Penner received three good tenders, he said.

“It was a hard decision,” he said. “They were all very good.”

In the end, he chose the Nelson pair.

“They had a good presentation, a great business plan,” he said. “The others were good, too, but they stood out.”

Though Penner said he wasn’t sure how quick the Nelsons could turn around the concession situation, he said that he’s “impressed.”

“I’m getting very good feedback from people on the new place,” he revealed. “Obviously some people are wary.”

Penner said one of the most impressive feats by the Nelsons was the renovation of the space. Unlike before, the interior is all open, so all food-prep areas are visible to waiting clientele. The other window is open now, too, which entices people coming in the main entrance, or leaving the pool, gym or upper levels.

While people are raving about the burgers, Penner admitted that they weren’t his favourite item on the menu.

“(My favourite) is probably the sausage and egger,” he said.

Nelson’s Penalty Box is on its summer schedule and is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.