Local bar owner to take over food concessions at Juneau airport

By December 23, 2013Business, Local Government
In January, travelers through the capital city's airport will see changes to the food and beverages service. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

In January, travelers through the capital city’s airport will see changes to the food and beverage service. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The Juneau International Airport is finally addressing a big complaint from travelers through the capital city. At the end of January, food will be served in the departure area. And travelers may notice another change – the long-standing Glacier Restaurant and Lounge is becoming Brandi’s Airport Bar.

Ethan Billings has owned the Juneau sports bar and night club Marlintini’s Lounge for the past 20 years. Now, he’s getting into the airport concessions business. He recently signed a contract with Juneau International Airport to run food and beverage services for the next two to four months starting Jan. 1.

“This opportunity fell in my lap and I like challenges and we’re ready to rock and roll. So I’m going to keep some existing staff, I’m going to hire some knowledgeable people, and we’ll see where we go with it,” said Billings.

Billings has only had a few weeks to prepare. The airport originally solicited short term proposals for food and beverage concessions this past summer. The airport received proposals from three parties – Abby’s Kitchen, Kim Mungle, and 64 Thunderbird, LLC. A committee ranked Abby’s Kitchen the highest.

After entering into negotiations with the airport, Abby’s Kitchen terminated the process on Dec. 4, less than a month before the contract was supposed to begin.

Airport board president Jerry Godkin says the board was very disappointed, but understands:

“It was just a big hurdle for them. They had never been through a process where they were getting a liquor license, all the hurdles with the city, the state, and all the things to run a restaurant and run a bar, and have to negotiate parking. It was just a big hurdle, I think, for them with all those steps and they’re still trying to maintain a successful catering business that they do.”

Abby’s Kitchen declined to comment for this story.

ESS Support Services in Anchorage has held the food and beverage concession contract at Juneau’s airport since 1993. It ends Dec. 31. Billings plans to change the name from Glacier Restaurant to Brandi’s Airport Bar, but keep the same menu. “At this point, since this is kind of a late notice in getting going on this, it’s going to pretty much be the same at this point, and then when we get the kinks out of the operation and the takeover, we’ll look at expanding or subtracting and upgrading the menu or doing whatever we need to do,” he says.

Cup of Joe’s coffee stand on the first floor will keep the same name and in late January, another coffee stand is scheduled to open inside the departure lounge. In an area that currently only has vending machines, Billings says the stand will serve food, “The grab and go kind of stuff that you can just go grab and take on the plane as well as coffee and beverages and then some other snacks as well. It’ll be prepackaged stuff but it won’t be candy bars and snack bars; it’ll be more sandwich-oriented items.”

Billings is contracted to run food and beverage concessions at the airport for up to four months. In the meantime, Renee Loree with the city’s finance department says a second RFP for a temporary contract will go out:

“We are re-scoping the work that was initially put out there. We are allowing vendors to reply. We would welcome Abby’s Kitchen replying again as well as Kim Mungle. 64 Thunderbird could submit again as well.”

Airport architect Catherine Fritz says a total reconstruction of the area currently used for food and beverage will be complete fall of 2016. Future plans include full service dining with views out to the airfield and expanded service on the secure side.

“We’re looking at a model that will serve both the secure and non-secure sides from a single kitchen so we have a lot of great ideas and optimism about the longer term picture. It’s been the short term interim that has been the real difficult puzzle piece to fit in,” Fritz says.

Fritz says the airport is allowing Billings to operate food and beverage services with no revenue to the airport. She says the next contract will have concession fees.

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