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Ira Teinowitz is covering the Democratic and Republican conventions, documenting how television and advertisers mix it up with the politicians.

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CNN Gets Into Restaurant Business

August 26, 2008 8:07 AM

CNN claims to have the best political team on television, but it’s also vying for a new honor this year: the best restaurant at the Democratic and Republican conventions.

CNN Grill

Demonstrating the confluence of TV and Internet production, advertising and publicity—at least during special events—CNN, like rival Fox, has taken over a restaurant at each convention.

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

More about Fox’s in another report.

CNN is using its CNN Grill as a venue for the network’s shows, a temporary office for network correspondents, a place to entertain advertising clients and the press and a giant promotional platforms for delegates, media and advertisers.

Scot Safon, executive VP and chief marketing officer of CNN Worldwide, said the CNN Grill is an expansion of what happened four years ago when CNN turned a New York diner into the CNN Diner for the GOP convention, supposedly as a publicity vehicle. It turned out that the network also ended up producing shows from there.

“It was branded entertainment for CNN,” Safon said.

CNN Grill

When it came time to plan for the 2008 conventions, he said, everybody wanted it.

The original CNN Diner in New York was dreamed up by Civic Entertainment Group, New York, and CNN turned to the company again this time to do restaurants at both conventions. Here in Denver it's a restaurant named Brooklyn’s that was turned into the CNN Diner. In St. Paul, it’s the Eagle Street Grill.

This go-round, the restaurants are double the size, and the makeovers aren’t minor.

CNN repainted the restaurant in its signature red, changed all the restaurant’s upholstery and erected neon signs inside and a giant neon “CNN Grill” sign outside.

CNN Grill

MILE HIGH GRILL CNN technicians roll a large screen television to their outdoor studio, called the "CNN Grill", August 24, 2008 during preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Finally, on the older-looking red brick building here, it painted purposely faded “ghost” lettering saying “CNN Politics,” with a series of thoughts about politics starting with “respect and unity.”

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

The inside makeover happened in 48 hours and the outside in four days.

CNN is paying to use the restaurants and convert them, as well as to convert them back. And it's 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's due to be installed Saturday morning there. Finally, it paid to train some kitchen staff in New York.

Mr. Safon declined to reveal costs, but said the restaurant means CNN doesn’t have to staff or hold events at other locations at the conventions. “It is a very cost-effective way of doing a combination of production, hospitality and marketing presence,” he said.

He said 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're also producing convention-related events in New York for the final night of the Democratic and Republican conventions.

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