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David Pendered

Atlanta airport concessions contracts for food, beverage to define Southern cuisine

By David Pendered

How would you define the culinary culture of the South?

Would entrees be shrimp and grits? Neckbones? Meatloaf? Fried chicken? Fried tempeh encrusted in peppercorns? Giblets and rice? Maybe a chili cheese dog?

A section committee comprised of airport executives will make this determination this summer when it recommends the hiring of companies to reshape the multi-billion-dollar food and beverage concession business at Atlanta’s airport.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council will make the final determination of what constitutes Southern food when they approve concessions contracts that will last at least a decade.

Winning a contract will require a lot more than just coming up with food associated with the South.

In fact, the food concept represents just 20 percent of the overall grade in the formula the selection team will use. The other five factors in the grading system include:

  • Business plan: 20 percent;
  • Experience: 20 percent;
  • Minimum payment guarantee to the airport: 20 percent;
  • Inclusion of disadvantaged business enterprises: 15 percent;
  • Financial capacity: 5 percent.

Nonetheless, the culinary question is central to the review process.

Paul Brown, concessions director, Atlanta airport. Photo: David Pendered

Paul Brown, concessions director, Atlanta airport. Photo: David Pendered

It stems from Atlanta’s decision to require the food and beverage industry to propose concepts that will remind passengers they are in the South, according to Paul Brown, concessions director at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“What we’ve challenged the industry to do is create a sense of place, a sense of being in Atlanta, in the state of Georgia, in the Southeast region,” Brown said.

Exactly what is this Southern cuisine the companies are expected to represent to the traveling public?

“It’s more than just hanging a banner and saying: ‘You’re in Atlanta’,” Brown said.

If it’s more than a banner, what is it?

Brown said he doesn’t have the answer. Instead, the definition will become evident once the review committee selects winning ideas from the various proposals presented by the concessions industry.

“We realize we are attempting to apply objective measures to a subjective topic,” Brown said. “One person’s idea of ‘South’ may be different from another person’s idea of ‘South’… We will not make anyone feel uncomfortable.”

Nick Schaefer hopes his company has some ideas that will be selected.

Schaefer is vice president of Delaware North, a prime operator of food and beverage concessions at major tourist attractions including the Grand Canyon and Kennedy Space Center; sports venues including the New Meadowlands Stadium; and airports including Los Angeles International.

The job of prime operators like Delaware North is to assemble teams of sub-operators who will actually run the establishments. Several primes are looking at Atlanta’s concessions opportunities.

Schaefer said Atlanta’s focus on food that’s representative of the region fits into an emerging pattern at airports around the country. LAX had similar requirements for regionally identifiable food.

Here’s how Schaefer described the “Gateway Concept” that Delaware North devised a decade ago to create a team of storefronts that deliver regionally recognizable foods. The process he describes hints at how the industry may come to define Southern cuisine:

  • “It’s a matter of going into the local community and finding the iconic restaurant or iconic celebrity who has an interest in being in an airport.
  • “Part of the skill set airports are asking for is for [prime operators] to go pick a local restaurant, provide a compelling business argument on why they should be in an airport, and work with them to massage it and deliver it at an airport.
  • “That’s a lot different from signing a franchise agreement with a national brand and duplicating it around the country.”

One thing seems certain: The Southern cuisine that will be served up at Atlanta’s airport will be vastly different from what composer Andy Razaf described in his famous lyrics from his song:

“That’s What I Like About the South”

Won’t you come with me to Alabamy

Let’s go see my dear old Mammy

She’s fryin’ eggs and boiling hammy

That’s what I like about the South.

Now there you can make no mistakey

Where those nerves are never shaky

Ought to taste her layer cakey

That’s what I like about the South.

She’s got baked ribs and candied yams

Those sugar-cured Virginia hams

Basement full of those berry jams

An’ that’s what I like about the South.

Hot corn bread, black-eyed peas

You can eat as much as you please

‘Cause it’s never out of season

That’s what I like about the South.

(Credit: International Lyrics Playground)

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. Burroughston Broch May 15, 2011 9:31 pm

    These four components of the grading plan represent 75% of the grade and will ensure more of the same we see now:
    *Business plan: 20 percent (Innovation and change are threatening. Maybe it’s a combination of win the contract by any possible means and then beat the sub-operators down on their part.);
    *Experience: 20 percent (Experience in what? Food service or pleasing politicians and bureaucrats?);
    *Minimum payment guarantee to the airport: 20 percent (show me the money);
    *Inclusion of disadvantaged business enterprises: 15 percent (Barbara Fouch and other friends of those in power, stay tuned).

    I know that I’m negative but I’ve spent a lot of time in Hartsfield in the last 25 years and have seen this before.Report


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