After a contentious bidding battle over revitalizing dining options at John Wayne Airport, two iconic Laguna Beach businesses will soon have an extra storefront at the airport to woo customers. Hobie Sand Bar and The Farm Market by Laguna Culinary Arts are scheduled to open at the airport in November and January, respectively, part of the winning food concession package pitched by HMS Host.
Last month, the wine and gourmet food shop Vino Volo opened in Terminal B, a welcome addition to the airport’s fare and signaling the more diverse and upscale dining options planned for the airport’s nearly nine million annual passengers. The revamped food concessions are part of a $543 million expansion underway, including the addition of a third wing of airline gates, known as Terminal C.
While the airport staff’s recommended Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services, the county’s Board of Supervisors awarded the 10-year food and beverage lease to HMS Host, whose package included the two Laguna businesses.
The front-runner for the concession last fall appeared to be Delaware North, which included some locally known brands and names, such as Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Corky Carroll’s Surf Bar. The bid also relied on commercial concepts centered on Food Network personalities and John Wayne themed eateries. Delaware North’s imaginative design plans impressed airport staff.
“Both firms were very well qualified,” said Kristen Thornton, aide to Fifth District Supervisor Patricia Bates. Even so, Delaware North’s bid included celebrity driven concepts that were unproved, while HMS concepts were more of a “sure bet,” Thornton said.
Supervisors were won over by the HMS plan, which offers more money in percentage rent and employs more local Orange County firms. That latter “was a major factor” in their decision, said Thornton.
The other Orange County-based brands in the HMS line up are Ruby’s Diner and Shake Shack, Javi’s (tied to Javier’s in Newport Beach and Irvine), Zov’s Bakery & Café, Jerry’s Wood-Fired Dogs and Anaheim Ducks Slapshot Bar & Grill.
“We really worked diligently” to find iconic Orange County businesses, such as Hobie’s, said Susan Goyette, an HMS spokeswoman. The Farm Market in particular is a concept unique to Orange County, she said.
Mark Christy, co-owner of Hobie Surf Shops in Laguna and Dana Point, expressed satisfaction that ultimately supervisors saw the value of relying on locally developed brand concepts. “I’m just honored to be sitting with these guys,” he said of his fellow concessionaires, and professed his excitement for the new venture.
He and his current business partners, Jeff and Laurie Alter, devised a space that he promised will be “extremely unusual in appearance for an airport.” The surf-themed food joint, celebrating professional surfer and board maker Hobie Alter, will be located at the very end of Terminal B in a space now occupied by Starbucks. It will have a rusted metal roof, old surfboards hanging from rafters, vintage posters, a balsa wood bar top made appropriately by Hobie’s son, Jeff. The healthful menu includes breakfast, sandwiches, soups, salads and tacos, among other small plates, such as El Morro Spring Rolls.
Like Christy, Laurent Brazier, the executive chef instructor for Laguna Culinary Arts, has had a positive experience with HMS and expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity.
HMS will own the airport restaurant bearing his school’s name, but they signed on Brazier, with his Laguna Culinary Arts pedigree, to develop and run the eatery that will serve 500 to 700 meals a day. Brazier was granted carte blanche, revamping space occupied by Brioche Dorée from kitchen design and menu planning to staffing. Though he won’t share in the profits, Brazier believes that the exposure and marketing potential for Laguna Culinary Arts will have its own payoff.
So while he recently opened Mirepoix in the Culinary Arts cheese shop in Laguna Canyon, serving a prix fixe menu three nights weekly, the concession was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “Having a company like HMS asking us to be there, you have to say yes,” he said. “You have to make it happen.”
Brazier envisions the Farm Market as offering visitors a literal taste of Laguna, but also a way to pulverize the stereotype of airport food as tasteless and unhealthy. He’ll provide travelers with options using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, taking a page from the Laguna Culinary Arts lunch menu of gourmet sandwiches with house-roasted meats, salads, cheese plates and half-bottles of wine.
“It’s one more fabulous opportunity for the spotlight to be on Laguna Beach as a culinary destination, as well as to remind the thousands of people passing through the airport that you don’t have to sacrifice taste and a good culinary experience when you are on the go,” said Karyn Philippsen, president of the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau.