Meet the Man Feeding the Players Who Win Millions at the World Series of Poker
All-American Dave has been bringing healthy food right to the table at the WSOP for seven years.
For those who settle in to play at the 57-day-long string of poker tournaments in Las Vegas known as the World Series of Poker, they likely make an agreement with themselves that they’re going to have to eat some bad things during days at the table that can run 10 hours with few breaks. Chicken fingers, French fries, personal pizzas, hot dogs, chips, candy and sugary soft-drinks are all on offer at WSOP, currently in the midst of its Main Event at Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino where 7,221 people, who each ponied up the $10,000 entry fee, are being winnowed away until one person takes home the first-place prize of $8,150,000.
But while it’s easy to eat like a19-year-old Spring Breaker, during the World Series, not everyone goes that route. In fact, a growing number of the game’s top players would sooner throw away an ace-high flush draw than indulge in artery clogging junk food. Smart, winning pros such as Andrew Robl, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth , Brian Rast and Jeff Gross are among those who order healthy sustenance from a man with a poker-worthy nickname: All American Dave Swanson.
“The idea is to help people reach their poker goals and their health goals,” says Swanson, whose business peaks during the World Series, though he ferries nutritionally balanced meals to poker rooms up and down the Strip throughout the year. He sees a correlation between the impact unhealthy food can have on someone’s body and the likelihood that they will bust out of a poker tournament.
Jeff Gross, who’s won in excess of $2.9 million at poker tournaments, views his All American Dave meals as a bit of a competitive edge during the 10-hour stretches of poker that define World Series events. “Except for a couple of dinners, I’ve eaten All American Dave’s food for every tournament,” Gross says, acknowledging that the cost is not cheap ($25 per entrée; $10 for whey-protein-laced smoothies with home-made rice milk) but that the price is worth it. Having recently finished a grass fed burger with an egg (no bun) and waiting on his last meal of the day (salmon with brown rice), Gross adds, “Dave has runners bringing meals to the tables, which means you can eat right there and not have to worry about what you’ll be having…You’re not going to end up bloated or tired because of a poor diet.”
Over the course of the World Series, Swanson will provide players with some 30,000 meals and smoothies and expects to gross around $750,000 in less than two months. Swanson’s run as caterer to the poker elite, began inauspiciously in 2010, when gym-buddy Antonio Esfandiari, who has won two World Series tournaments, worked out a deal to have him bring in meals throughout that year’s Series (Swanson cooked at home and packaged the food in Tupperware containers). “It’s got the perfect balance of carbs, protein and fat – 30 grams of carbs, 35 grams of protein and 7- to 14-grams of fat – and is almost all organically sourced and perfect for eating at the table. For example, we chop the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces before saucing it. Most meals have six ounces of lean beef, salmon or chicken. Dinner is a vegan Caesar salad with cashew dressing and a protein on top. I’m aiming for higher fat content and lower carbs. There’s no bread, no gluten, nothing processed.”
Every year more and more people ask Swanson to provide them with meals. Swanson accommodates as many as he can, but demand invariably exceeds capacity. He goes out of his way to provide his service to the game’s most successful, highest profile professionals. Others wait on lines, 100 deep, outside the Rio, where Swanson parks his food truck.
He has his customers eating like athletes and spacing out their meals in a way that is appropriate for long runs of card playing. The meal-day typically begins with a hearty breakfast – six egg whites, two yolks, grilled onions and spinach, avocado, gluten free oatmeal and organic berries – prior to a Swanson-recommended hour in the gym. Then at 11 a.m., there’s a post-workout/pre-poker protein shake, followed by three 550-calorie meals throughout the day. “We continually fuel the body,” says Swanson. “That’s how you keep yourself energized.”
Gross concurs, pointing out that an All American Dave diet will contribute to his looking better at the end of the World Series than he did at the start. “The worst is finishing the night at 1 a.m., being hungry and eating food at a Chinese restaurant or whatever is open before going to bed,” says Gross. “Without Dave, it’s kind of a nightmare. I eat his stuff and feel the difference.”
All American Dave’s food is so ubiquitous that he’s been name-checked during this year’s World Series of Poker telecast. More importantly though, he’s gained deep respect from the players he serves. Winners of World Series events receive coveted gold-bracelets, presented at a modest ceremonies during which players usually make speeches, voicing appreciation to those who helped them.
When James Obst won $265,138 at this year’s $10,000 buy-in Razz tournament, he thanked All American Dave for keeping him fed and healthy during play. “I felt a chill,” says Swanson, who does a bit of poker playing himself, thanks to lessons he’s received from grateful customers. “It was better than winning a bracelet of my own.”