For Fliers, First-Class Food Offerings Hit New Heights at San Francisco Airport

Dungeness crab. Irish coffee. Garlic fries.

San Francisco is known for many culinary specialties, but visitors to the city probably never expected to find such good eating at the airport.

These days, a new food and beverage program at San Francisco International Airport is changing the way fliers dine before their flights. Featured at the San Francisco Marketplace are such popular names as Buena Vista (where the Irish coffee originated in the United States); Perry's (the original S.F. fern bar); Yankee Pier (one of chef Bradley Ogden's enterprises); and Gordon Biersch (purveyor of garlic fries and brews).

Travelers can sit down at the raw bar at Yankee Pier, sip an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista -- or take a meal onboard with them. All of the vendors are required to have takeout counters for in-flight meals.

Airport officials at Mineta San Jose and Oakland say they have plans for similar programs and already are featuring local food vendors in their terminals.

San Francisco's program is a $22 million redevelopment of the airport's concessions operation, formerly run by HMS Host for more than 40 years. The new program includes 42 new concessions, most of which are locally owned. Three more are expected to open by March: Emporio Rulli, Go Bistro and Legends of San Francisco.

``We don't look at it as having a captive audience,'' David Dunn, the airport's senior principal property manager, said of airport passengers. ``That's bad customer service. San Francisco has wonderful food offerings, so why not have it reach out to the airport?''

On a recent weekday afternoon, many locations were doing a brisk business.

At Perry's, which has mahogany pillars and walls, an aluminum counter and a black-and-white checked tile floor, waiters were busily serving customers from a menu similar to its two San Francisco locations -- burgers, fish and chips and chicken.

Proprietor Perry Butler, who opened in August, said gross revenues already have exceeded expectations. Airport officials said they experienced a 40 percent increase in gross sales from August 2004 to August 2005.

Travelers who fly through San Francisco will be able to taste a variety of foods: specialty sandwiches at Klein's Deli & Coffee Bar, a Dungeness crab omelet at the Buena Vista or a hamburger at the Mission Bar & Grill -- ``the best burger you'll get at any airport in the world,'' according to Dunn.

The airport also has a retail wine shop, Wine Wisdom, which offers tastings twice a day and sells about 270 brands, mostly California. Lori's Diner in Terminal 1 has a counter made, in part, from a 1956 Cadillac, sawed lengthwise, that was once owned by former president Lyndon Johnson.

Prices are competitive with their San Francisco locations. Some meals are slightly higher -- though usually no more than 10 percent -- because doing business in an airport setting requires longer hours, restricted delivery times and security checks on employees.

San Jose's airport will offer national and local retail concessions when its North Concourse is completed in 2007, spokesman Rich Dressler said. Its two terminals already have such local vendors as Gordon Biersch, Max's, 360 Gourmet Burrito and Noah's Bagels.

Oakland also plans to bring in a mix of national and local vendors when it opens five new gates in Terminal 2 next summer. Current vendors include Your Black Muslim Bakery and coffee carts operated by students from Castlemont High School and the Alameda Unified School District's vocational program.

San Jose Mercury News

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