More than two dozen new eateries are planned for the busiest terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — ranging from local favorites to national chains offering selections from sushi to steak.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates MSP, approved the new offerings for Terminal 1, also known as Lindbergh, during a meeting that lasted more than five hours Monday as close to 40 people sought to address the board.
The complicated bidding process seeks to balance a desire to promote local businesses and also add familiar national chains in a mix that will appeal to the 37 million travelers who frequent the airport annually.
"I'm pleased as punch with all the bidders," said MAC Chairman Dan Boivin. "It's a lot of effort and a lot of money. It reflects so well on the future of our airport that everyone wants to be here."
Some of the successful local bidders include: Blue Door Pub, Hi-Lo Diner, Peoples Organic, Tattersall Distilling, and The Cook and The Ox, a concept from Jack Riebel, a chef and the owner of Minneapolis' Butcher & the Boar and The Lexington in St. Paul.
"My commitment is to come here and create something super-awesome," Riebel told the commission.
Twin Cities-based national chains that prevailed include Buffalo Wild Wings, Caribou Coffee and Leeann Chin.
Chains based elsewhere that were included in successful bid packages include Auntie Anne's pretzels, Panda Express, Wendy's, Chick-fil-A and Cinnabon.
Concepts new to the Twin Cities include Zona Cocina, now at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, and Joe & The Juice, a fresh-pressed juice outlet based in Denmark.
The MAC reports more than $200 million in annual sales from concessions. Concessionaires pay more than $30 million a year in rent.
The bids approved Monday follow a recently completed overhaul involving nearly 50 shops and restaurants — together, they represent the biggest turnover of concessions at the airport since 2004.
Terms of the leases last 10 years, with construction beginning after the Super Bowl in February and continuing through late 2019.
"There's no question that food is expanding at airports because airlines have cut back [on food service]," said George John, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "It's hugely more important than before."
The bidding for space at MSP is generally done in "batches" that include multiple restaurants for the airport's most coveted locations, along with those that are less trafficked. Boivin and MAC staff members assign points to each proposal after reviewing concepts, wages and benefits, and prospective rent, among other traits. The concessionaire with the highest number of points wins the contract.
A good portion of Monday's meeting involved restaurant operators and others trying to persuade the commission to go against the staff recommendation.
Ultimately, that didn't happen, and several batches bearing some of Minnesota's iconic restaurant brands, including Meritage, Birchwood Cafe, Surly Brewing, Boca Chica and the State Fair's Giggles' Campfire Grill, failed to win their respective bids.
Jose Frias, whose family has run Boca Chica in St. Paul for more than 53 years, expressed disappointment. We are "an institution, a mainstay" featuring home cooking from scratch, he said.
Another controversy included a claim by HMSHost, a Maryland-based airport food-services firm, that 400 union employees would lose their jobs in the retail turnover at the airport if the proposed slate of concessionaires was approved. Competing concessionaires said the employees would be retained at the same level of pay and seniority.