If you are of a certain age, you clearly remember the severe lack of food choices at airports. Your only choices were a generic “snack bar,” “fast food” places and a plain Jane “restaurant.” And, everything was expensive.
But three things have changed the dynamic on airport eateries.
First, after the 9/11 attacks, travelers were spending much more time in terminals, given that they could not predict how quickly they would get through security. They demanded better options.
Two, long-term concessions contracts began expiring, giving airports the chance to upgrade their options.
Three, as airlines began consolidating operations and cutting back on flights, airports needed to find new revenue streams.
So airlines stepped up and started upgrading their food options, and one of the most popular trends is the celebrity chef restaurant.
Thanks to the popularity of programming on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, along with television shows like the “Top Chef” series, chefs have become celebrities and brands, and airports want a piece of that.
Philadelphia-based OTG Management is considered one of the leaders of bringing chef-driven, higher-end restaurants to the airport.
Some of the concepts include Asian Kitchen by Susur Lee at Toronto-Pearson International, the brainchild of a “Top Chef Master” and “Iron Chef Canada” judge; Revolucion, a regional Mexican restaurant at JFK Airport Terminal 5 by celebrity chef Chef Roberto Santibañez; and Local, by Iron Chef Jose Garces at Philadelphia International Airport’s Terminal F.
HMSHost is a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that brings food and beverage concepts to airports. It has a whole division that works with celebrity chefs to bring their brands to airports.
Some of its concepts include: “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio’s Ink.Sack at Los Angeles International; Todd English’s Bonfire at Boston-Logan International, Lorena Garcia Cocina at Hartsfield-Jackson International, Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at Chicago O’Hare and Martin Yan’s Yan Can at San Diego International.
Newark, Delaware-based Delaware North has partnered with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Iron Chef/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck to bring new concepts to Los Angeles International Airport. Morimoto has Skewers, a fast-casual restaurant that offers Japanese street and bar food. Wolfgang Puck has expanded his Wolfgang Puck Express at the airport.
Atlanta-based Hojeij Branded Foods brought Cat Cora’s Kitchen to Hartsfield-Jackson, Houston Intercontinental, Salt Lake City International and San Francisco International airports. The Iron Chef’s restaurant focuses on tapas small plates and hand-crafted cocktails.
And, Newton, Massachusetts-based Marketplace Development is a real estate development firm that specializes in the planning, development and management of retail development projects at airports across the country.
Some of its celebrity concepts include: Bar Symon by Iron Chef Michael Symon at Washington Dulles; Figs by Todd English at LaGuardia; and Kapnos, a Greek restaurant developed by “Top Chef” contestant Mike Isabella at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
So, as you travel in 2015, it’s less likely you’ll find generic choices and more likely you’ll discover a full menu of chef offerings.
Benét J. Wilson is co-editor of AirwaysNews.com and blogs at AviationQueen.com. She has been an aviation/travel journalist for more than 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @AvQueenBenet