Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will be getting a makeover in the next year, with the new restaurant bid going to SSP America, which is bringing in 26 new eateries, including some local favorites.
Ahwatukee Foothills’ Los Taquitos Mexican Grill, Tempe’s Four Peaks Brewing Company and Gilbert’s Joe’s Real BBQ will all open to travelers of Terminal Four by fall of next year. The 10-year, $800 million contract will allow SSP to license and operate several local restaurants at the airport, as well as sublease to other people, said Pat Murray, SSP America executive vice president.
“Our goal is to try to emulate the restaurants that scream, ‘You’re in Phoenix,’ not, ‘You’re in a mall in middle America,’” Murray said. “Travelers are under stress, trying to find a gate and if we can get someone to crack a smile, then it’s worth it.”
Rather than Taco Bell or Del Taco, people traveling to and through Phoenix will get a taste of real Mexican food.
Los Taquitos, owned by seven brothers and sisters, has been in Ahwatukee since 2000. The restaurant features authentic Mexican family recipes passed down from their grandparents. Prior to opening the restaurant, the siblings’ parents first operated a food cart in Phoenix, which then expanded into other restaurants.
“When it comes to picking the right restaurants, there’s a lot of art, not a lot of science in it,” Murray said.
Instead it’s been an evolution of what people want to eat, he said. Airports used to offer hotdogs and draft beer, and then it moved to Pizza Hut and Chili’s. Now people want more local flavors.
Sky Harbor saw nearly 40.6 million passengers last year, according to an airport report.
“That’s a lot of people going by our store,” said Joe Johnston, owner and namesake of Joe’s Real BBQ.
The opportunity to be at the airport presented itself nearly a year and a half ago when SSA came to them, Johnston said.
Joe’s should be open and serving food within the first quarter of next year.
“We’re definitely concerned that it be operated properly,” Johnston said. “SSP has been very up front that the food should be done properly.”
SSP America will operate the store, but managers and possibly some employees will be trained at Joe’s. The airport meat will be the same meat you find at the Gilbert locations, although it may not have the same variety, he said. A few of the meats purchased less often will only be available at the original locations.
“We’re looking at expanding our Gilbert store to make space for additional cooking space and raw meat storage,” Johnston said.
They will also likely hire three additional kitchen staff at the Gilbert location, he said.
And while it may not offer everything normally seen on the menu at Joe’s, the airport will have additional offerings, Johnston said.
“On the other hand, we will be offering breakfast at the airport,” he added. There might also be alcohol at the airport location, unlike the Gilbert one, which prohibits alcohol due to zoning. The airport locations will acquaint many people with food that can only be found in the greater-Phoenix area.
“Basically 63 percent (of people) are not getting on the plane in Phoenix, they’re changing planes and on their way to somewhere else,” Murray said. “We want to expose people to different foods who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it. Four Peaks is a full-service restaurant. People won’t just get a beer; they’ll get the whole experience.”
Four Peaks isn’t currently served anywhere in the airport, despite its prevalence in the Phoenix area, Murray said. “In Arizona, it’s uncommon to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have Four Peaks on draft.”
Other restaurants that are part of the SSP America bid are: Zinc Bistro, Lola Coffee, Tammie Coe Cakes, Delux Burger, Pei Wei, Humble Pie, Wildflower Bread Company, Panda Express, Nocawich, Matt’s Big Breakfast, MidCity Kitchen, Sweet Republic, Wendy’s, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Yogurtology, America’s Taco Shop, Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, Culver’s ButterBurgers & Frozen Custard, and Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar.
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