Which New Restaurants Are Coming to LAX?

For years, my pre-flight ritual whenever hoping on a jet at LAX was the same: Give the self-shaming part of my consciousness an early exit for the day, get in the line at McDonald's, and order up a 10-piece Chicken McNugget. (Sweet and sour sauce, please.) The reason for this tradition was two-fold: (1) Getting on a plane, for me, is inherently scary, so I'd always be walking the terminal with the "we're all gonna go sometime anyway, might as well have some fun while we're here" mentality; (2) LAX simply didn't have a lot more to offer. There were fast food options you could "trust" (meaning, the taste, not necessarily the quality) or small shops that offered a sandwich or salad that, more often than not, was no better than whatever's in the bargain bin at 7/11.

But food-inclined travelers may have something to look forward to now.

In an announcement that certainly looks a bit, let's say, coincidental following the release of a report that ranked the healthiest airports in regards to their food options -- a report that showed LAX embarrassingly tied for 10th in the nation, behind such airports as Las Vegas McCarran, Chicago O'Hare, Miami International, and Detroit Metropolitan -- the folks at LAX have decided to get a little more modern when it comes to airport cuisine:

LAX is opening its doors starting this year to some of the city's signature restaurants, including Larder at Tavern, Cole's and Ford's Filling Station. A rotating cast of food-truck vendors including Kogi's is expected to operate out of a space with a mock truck decor. [Mark] Peel, who closed Campanile on La Brea Avenue in the fall after 23 years, is opening an airport version of the high-class restaurant. The lucky terminals include Tom Bradley International and Terminal 4, home to American Airlines.

Adding it all up, there's going to be an additional 60 dining and retail options coming into the airport. Other restaurants getting an LAX charter -- to use Sons of Anarchy-speak -- will be Umami Burger, Border Grill and the caps-key-missing folks at ink.spot. Despite the lack of an In-N-Out still -- an oversight that desperately needs to be corrected -- things are about to get pretty exciting in the food department at those two terminals.

What's awfully nice about the whole thing isn't that they're just responding to criticism of having no quality options by simply putting in a new Wolfgang Puck's or some other name-dropping eatery and calling it a day. Instead, they're actually taking established Los Angeles icons and bringing them to those making a first impression of the city. "Get a little taste of L.A. during your short layover," seems to be the thought process here.

Sure, it's certainly annoying that it took L.A. this long to get behind the new "airport food isn't airport food anymore" movement. (Seriously, if you've left L.A. via plane in the past half-decade, it's almost been annoying seeing the food options available at the next airport.) It's in keeping with the city's tradition of letting everyone else take a new food trend out for a spin before trusting it completely. (See: Craft beer, Vietnamese food, specialty cocktails, etc.) But luckily, as always, when the city does finally commit to an idea and embrace the future, they do it up right.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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Who selected the new restaurants that will be opening at LAX? I have found that Umami Burger is not a very good sample of Los Angeles food and think that if In & Out had been chosen it would have been a much better choice and made more money for the airport.

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Rick,


LAX like any other airport signs long term (typical 10+ yrs) contracts with its food service operators (typically "prime" vendors like HMSHost/SSP/DNC or lease management companies like Westfield/Airmall/MarketPlace Development) . This is the only way those operators can amortize their investments and get a ROI.

Thus LAX's schedule was predetermined by when the contracts with HMSHost expired. As soon as these contracts were nearing expiration, LAX issued RFP's first to primes for Terminal 4,5 ,7 & 8 and then in the second round to lease management companies for TBITS, Encounter, Terminals 1,2, and 3.

The first round was initially issued in 5 packages. The results of the largest one of those packages was challenged so ultimately for Terminals 4,5,7 & 8 seven packages were awarded. Areas USA got 4 packages, DNC got 3 packages, HMSHost got the food court in Terminal 4, and another smaller group got the last package the foodcourt in Terminal 7.

These projects are being phased. Some are open, some are in construction, and some are still going through approvals. A lot of local brands are part of this development including Loteria Grill, Lemonade, Ford Filling Station, BOA Steakhouse, Los Angeles Farmer's Market, etc.

The trend that has been established in other airports like O'Hare, JFK, PHL, etc that occurred since LAX awarded contracts was the introduction of local concepts that reflected the local city. This is a relatively recent trend with SFO and PHL probably spearheading the movement. When primes respond to RFP's they come in with their lists of concepts based upon agreements they've made with those concepts.

At LAX, with the prime vendors involved, the operators are still the prime vendors who form licensing agreements with the local concepts. (Licensing agreements typically give a percentage pay out for the use of the brand). Some concepts don't form licensing agreements, and are all company owned. So the problem with getting an In-n-Out into the airport with a prime had a lot to with not being able to make a deal as well as having to use the airport's unionized labor which made a deal with this brand especially difficult. So one of the better financed primes actually tried to bring In-N-Out into one of their early proposals and couldn't reach an agreement to make it work.

Now in theory though the second round of RFP's issued to lease management companies both won by Westfield may have made it easier to get an In-N-Out into the airport, BUT Westfield rather than leasing directly to tenants issued their own RFP to the same primes who competed in the first round. Since Westfield is taking a management cut on top of the cut that LAWA is taking, several of these primes chose not to compete, and HMSHost ended up winning this subleasing agreement to run the food concessions.

Thus HMSHost is actually going to still run operations with local brands, so the prime will cover out all the build-outs, plus cover all the higher labor costs that all these smaller local concepts that have never operated in airport could never realistically afford, since airports have very very high startup and labor costs compared to builds on the street.

Capiche?