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Execuetive Travel | ON THE MOVE / DANIEL GAINES

Food at LAX Is No Longer a Terminal Experience

July 31, 1996|DANIEL GAINES | Daniel Gaines, markets editor of The Times, edits the Executive Travel page. If you have suggestions or comments on Executive Travel, write to Executive Travel, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or message business on the Internet

The culinary takeoff at Los Angeles International Airport is finally gaining altitude, with a group of new outlets opening this week at Shuttle by United's Terminal 8 and a flashy mezzanine food court built around a waterfall nearing completion in the Bradley International Terminal.

Many of LAX's new restaurants are opening months behind schedule, but some--including two Wolfgang Puck Express outlets, a Rhino Chasers beer bar and Creative Croissants--are in place.

The improvements are especially timely as heightened security measures are likely to mean more waiting at airports, says LAX spokeswoman Cora Foffett.

New retail operations are appearing in all the terminals this year, although further delays are expected in American Airlines' Terminal 4 while the airport reviews plans for a major redesign there.

The airport's plan to put branches of popular Southern California restaurants into its terminals continues apace, with several Cheesecake Factory outlets being built, a Daily Grill opening this fall as part of the Bradley Terminal make-over, and a Louise's Trattoria scheduled for Terminal 5.

The local theme appeals to the companies as well.

The two Wolfgang Puck units, both operating for more than seven months, are profitable.

"It's terrific billboard for us," said Naomi Pollock, vice president of marketing for Puck's company.

Indeed, the sites display videos of Puck restaurant locations in the region, "literally saying, 'Welcome to L.A. from Wolfgang,' " Pollock said, adding that many customers take a piece of L.A. with them--a significant amount of sales are in to-go orders for eating in-flight.

LAX's efforts are in line with recent improvements at airports nationwide, although passengers have seen expanded food options and virtual mini-shopping malls for some years at pioneering airports such as John Wayne in Orange County and Pittsburgh International.

Once travelers get used to the idea of decent airport food, they will probably spend more on it than before, according to airport officials, which means more income for the airport and, presumably, more satisfied passengers.

San Diego's Lindbergh Field, which used to offer minimal food service, recently completed a renovation that includes popular chains.

"Now I try to get to the airport 15 minutes early to have a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll at Cinnabon," said San Diego accountant Bennett Voit.

Cinnabon is also planning two locations at LAX.

These airport stores "make it more interesting, more lively and more fun," said Larry Flax, co-chairman of California Pizza Kitchen, which is opening a CPK ASAP unit today in Terminal 8. Although the rents can be three times those of other locations, "there are a tremendous number of people with time on their hands" at airports, Flax said. The CPK ASAP operation will have a limited version of the chain's regular menu--as well as "breakfast pizzas" designed specifically for the airport.

Also opening today alongside CPK are a new Burger King, Hermosa Beach Microbrewery and Starbucks Coffee. Starbucks, which has dozens of airport locations licensed to Host Marriott, plans to open outlets in most, if not all, LAX terminals by next year, according to Starbucks spokeswoman Cheri Libby.

LAX's food has received national attention, particularly because it has a comparatively wide variety of healthy food options.

The August issue of Frequent Flyer magazine highlights LAX, Pittsburgh and Vancouver as giving numerous and convenient alternatives to fried and fatty meals. Californians may take fresh fruit, salad, udon (Japanese noodles) and juice drinks for granted, but Frequent Flyer and the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine cited those items when ranking LAX first in availability of vegetarian and low-fat meals.

The changes at the international terminal--due for completion next month--will be particularly welcome now that passengers are asked to come to the airport up to three hours early, Foffett says. Only temporary, limited food options have been available there this year.

Also underway is a Disney-designed make-over of the theme restaurant in the middle of the airport, although no opening date has been set.

The restaurant changes were set in motion two years ago, when the city's Airports Commission began signing new concession contracts instead of simply renewing Host Marriott's 30-year exclusive arrangement. Host continues to contract much of the airport's retail space, but it is now helping to add variety by licensing a number of different vendors.

The restaurant and retail changes are part of a series of changes in and around LAX that are popping up almost every week this year. Among some of the recent moves:

* Customs: United Airlines now has an underground customs checkpoint between Terminals 6 and 7, eliminating the need to bus its passengers around the airport. There are now four customs operations at LAX.

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