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LAX hopes to give taste buds quite a ride

The airport plans to upgrade concessions to reflect the diverse, top-drawer cuisine of L.A. New shops and other services are all part of the plan too. A spa, anyone?

April 16, 2010|By Dan Weikel and Betty Hallock

Can Los Angeles' world-class culinary magic bring new spice to the drab corridors of LAX? City leaders are about to find out.

This week airport officials began unveiling a long-awaited series of bids to replace the dated fast-food restaurants and retail shops that for years have greeted travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

LAX food proposals: An article in Section A on April 16 about restaurants proposed for Los Angeles International Airport stated that Jorge Rodriguez is co-owner of La Serenata de Garibaldi. Rodriguez's brother and sister-in-law, Jose and Aurora Rodriguez, are owners of the restaurant. Jorge assists with public relations. In addition, the article said Los Angeles chef Susan Feniger planned to open Border Grill Taqueria but failed to identify Feniger's partner in the venture, chef Mary Sue Milliken. —

In their place, they hope to highlight some of the city's most renowned chefs and make the first L.A. experience of tourists and business executives more than a mad dash for planes, bags and taxis.

Inside Terminal 7, chef Nancy Silverton would like to open Spuntino, an Italian snack bar where passengers would nosh on focaccia, cured meats, and pressed sandwiches with bread from La Brea Bakery.

"I want to avoid the cheesiness of what we think of as fast food," Silverton said. "Quick doesn't have to mean bad."

Bertha's Soul Food, one of the oldest establishments of its type of Los Angeles, is ready to start cookin' in Terminal 4.

For lighter fare, coffee and tasty beignets would be offered at the L.A. Mill, whose owner has partnered with chef Michael Mina. Travelers also might be able to buy freshly baked pastries from the reformed gang members at Homeboy Industries, founded by Father Gregory Boyle, or decompress in a terminal spa before or after their flights.

At LAX on Thursday, John Andreshias, a 52-year-old sales executive, said he welcomed the overhaul. He was waiting for his flight in Terminal 4, where the dining options included a Chili's Too and a Burger King.

"It's good to get rid of some of the chains," Andreshias said. "I want more opportunity than a greasy chicken sandwich or a greasy burger."

The proposals come from a variety of companies and entrepreneurs vying for 10 coveted food, beverage and retail contracts that involve 42 locations inside the third-busiest commercial airport in the nation -- one with a reputation for being not so passenger-friendly.

On Thursday, LAX officials unveiled the contenders that airport staff has recommended for contracts after evaluating competitive bids.

If approved by airport commissioners and the City Council in the weeks ahead, the new contracts would represent a dramatic change for an airport whose officials were once reluctant to turn LAX into anything resembling a shopping mall.

"The goal is to have some real capital improvements, make our concessions more physically attractive, increase revenue and give the airport the feel of L.A.," said Alan Rothenberg, president of the Board of Airport Commissioners.

Rothenberg and other airport leaders hope the first overhaul of LAX concessions since 1995 will help reverse the airport's sagging reputation among travelers, who have repeatedly griped about mediocre dining, aging terminals, traffic congestion and long security lines.

For years, the public has rated the airport average or below average in consumer questionnaires. In the latest J.D. Power survey of airport quality, passengers ranked LAX 19th out of the 20 largest airports in the United States. The restaurants, fast-food outlets and beverage stands were given two stars out of five.

"This is a great thing," said Kathy Briski, president-elect of the Los Angeles Business Travel Assn., who flies out of LAX weekly. "I'd like to have something more than Starbucks for breakfast."

Within the next few weeks, airport commissioners will begin selecting the restaurateurs and retailers for Terminals 4, 5, 7 and 8. Bidding for Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 6 is expected in the months ahead. The Tom Bradley International Terminal will be addressed later.

Among recommended contenders are Areas USA, the Miami-based subsidiary of a Spanish company that serves 73 airports around the globe; a joint venture involving former Lakers star Magic Johnson; XpresSpa, which operates spas at 14 major airports; SSP America Inc., whose parent company serves hundreds of airports and railroad stations in 34 countries; and THS/Marbella Food Service Partnership IV.

Gone from the preferred list or relegated to smaller roles in the current bids are HMS Host Corp., Delaware North Cos. and the Hudson Group, the master concessionaires that held long-term contracts to manage nearly all the airport's beverage, food and retail outlets.

These companies provided the airport with well-known brands such as Wolfgang Puck, Karl Strauss and California Pizza Kitchen, but those concessions, LAX officials say, are almost 15 years old.

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