Food retailers at Portland International Airport hungry for space at PDX

The skies may not always be friendly - delayed flights, cramped seating, unruly passengers - but that doesn't mean the airport experience has to be an exercise in teeth-gnashing stress.


With the addition of several new restaurants, Portland International Airport continues its goal of obtaining and retaining concessions that represent the Oregon experience.


PDX is in the process of introducing several Oregon-based eateries to its family of concessions. The list includes Rose's Deli, Rogue Ales, Pizza Schmizza and Laurelwood Public House and Brewery - all of which are locally owned.


PDX develops its concessions in clusters and attempts to keep the flavors local, according to Scott Kilgo, concessions manager for the Port of Portland. "We want to provide a local experience for our guests," Kilgo said.


This is not, however, a universal model for airports, Kilgo said. Portland is unique in the sense that Oregon has thriving restaurant and brewpub industries that specialize in local goods. And the attention given to Oregon-based chains over national chains appears to be working.


Per-passenger spending at PDX is $5.31 higher than the national average, according to the port. Gross sales topped $70.1 million for the 2007 fiscal year, with more than 67 percent of PDX passengers buying food or drink, the port said.


The port charges retailers about 12 percent of gross sales, on average, for airport space, Kilgo said.


Conde Nast Traveler magazine ranked PDX No. 1 among domestic airports in its October 2007 issue - the second consecutive year the award went to PDX. Concession owners at PDX said they don't find the ranking surprising.


"This is a really terrific statement on the quality of the concessions program at the airport," said Stephanie Jewel, franchisee of PDX's Big Town Hero.


Although flying can be stressful, PDX attempts to maintain a professional, relaxed and profitable environment. The addition of free WiFi, heavily marketed by PDX (and a major factor in Conde Nast's high ranking of the airport), is a major tool in getting passengers to arrive early.


"By providing that service, we make more money through concessions," Kilgo said. And booming concession sales optimize the value of the airport's real estate and assets, according to PDX's information packet.


Kilgo said PDX's concession success rests on maintaining a consistent vision, thinking like a consumer and the ability to target discretionary spending with the right mixture of shops and restaurants.