Airport food is enjoying a rebirth as creative chefs try their
wings in this challenging venue.
It’s all about identity, and Chicago isn’t
the only city looking to make its first
impression a good one. Rosario’s, a
long-established San Antonio dining
spot, opened a Rosario’s Mexican Café y
Cantina at the city’s airport. And at John F.
Kennedy International Airport in New York,
French bistro La Vie features a menu from
Balthazar chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson.
By Suzanne Hall
IT WOULD have been hard to imagine
10 years ago that USA Today and other
newspapers would extol the culinary virtues
of airport restaurants, or that media would
compose lists of the best airport restaurants
in the U.S. That they have is a testament
to the tremendous changes taking place
in the airport foodservice industry and the
increasing demand from consumers for
better and more varied offerings.
International Airport in February 2011, with
a second Bayless creation in the works.
Other well-known or celebrity chefs have
put—or are planning to—their names in
lights at an airport.
With the interest in local food high, it
would seem that chefs and restaurateurs
should be heading to their nearest airport
to sign up for the next available restaurant
space. In reality, that’s not the way it works.
Opening a restaurant anywhere is difficult,
and opening an airport restaurant requires
an understanding of requests for bids or
proposals, licensing, branding, franchising,
royalties and more.
LOCAL IS IN
A growing number of airports also are
home to yet another trend—the local
restaurant or specially created dining room
featuring traditional, regional foods and
named for a familiar landmark.
A new venue usually works best when
partnered with one of the pros who run
airport restaurants around the country
and the world. They secure the bids at
individual airports and work with the chef
to develop a menu concept true to the
original restaurant that will work within the
confines and time constraints of an airport
operation. They employ the staff and run
the restaurant, paying royalties or another
form of compensation to the chef.
The big names in fast food were among
the first brands to appear in airports, then
casual chains made an appearance. Today,
some airport terminals and concourses
boast fine dining, and it isn’t hard to find a
restaurant bearing the name of a celebrity
chef. Wolfgang Puck Express units have
been around for a number of years. Tim
Love of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in
Fort Worth, Texas, has a grab-and-go shop
in that city’s airport. Tortas Frontera by
Rick Bayless debuted at Chicago’s O’Hare
In a December 2010 press release
announcing the opening of Wicker Park
Seafood & Sushi Bar at O’Hare, Chicago
Department of Aviation commissioner
Rosemarie Andolino noted that “O’Hare is
the global gateway to our city and region.
This new restaurant will provide travelers
with healthy and innovative international
food choices that reflect our city’s
Among the companies best known
for airport restaurants is HMSHost of
Bethesda, Md., operating in 111 airports
worldwide. Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi
Bar and Tortas Frontera at Chicago’s
O’Hare are two of its units. Like other