A steakhouse, a smoking lounge and a bagel shop have opened on Denver International Airport's Concourse C, the first new concessions to open there in about six years.
Timberline Steaks & Grille, Smokin' Bear smoking lounge and Einstein Bros. Bagels, which opened about a month ago, represent a harbinger of changes to come as the airport's emptiest concourse comes to life.
Unlike Concourse A, which is dominated by Frontier Airlines, and Concourse B, home to United Airlines, Concourse C lacks a large anchor airline.
When concessionaire Rod Tafoya originally bid on the location, Southwest Airlines had not announced its intentions to fly to Denver and unload its passengers on Concourse C. Nor had DIA discussed its plans to build 10 more gates on the airport's outermost concourse.
"Honestly, everybody thought we were crazy," he said. Now, "the race is to get here. It was a mad dash to get the other locations."
A Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Paradise Bakery, Caribou Coffee and Dazbog coffee are set to open there this year.
Tafoya designed his steakhouse to feel like a modern Colorado ski lodge with a fireplace, lounge area and a view of the mountains. Menu items include such things as Rocky Mountain oysters, prime New York strip steaks and buffalo burgers.
"It's unusual for a passenger to be able to find a prime steak at an airport," said Tafoya, who has invested about $2.2 million in the location.
Southwest, a Dallas-based low-cost carrier, recently decided to take on another gate, but even with five of the 22 gates on Concourse C, its presence is small. But compared with past years, "it's dramatic what has happened with the traffic here," Tafoya said.
Gross revenue for concessions grew 26.8 percent in February compared with a year ago, from $1.5 million to nearly $2 million.
Even so, Tafoya's new concessions have cut into business at the adjacent Cantina Grill. Sales dropped by 40 percent, said David Mosteller, president and chief executive of Skyport Cos., which operates the Cantina Grill and other concessions at DIA.
"This is not a short-term investment but a long-term one," Mosteller said. "With the increase of traffic of Southwest as well as the airport's plans to expand additional gates on C, we feel that it will come back around."
With more than 10 concessions contracts coming up for bid in the next few months and dozens more coming due in the next few years, airport officials are working on a master plan they hope will guide a gradual improvement in the way concessions look and feel.
Patrick Heck, the strategic adviser overseeing work on the master plan, expects it to be completed in about a month. It could include stores like Brooks Brothers, not currently found at DIA, which would cater to road warriors who need to take care of errands such as buying a new shirt.
"You want to offer things like that," he said.
Mosteller, who also is president of the DIA Concessionaires Association, said, "Sunglass Hut and Brookstone have been at the airports for many years, but now you're seeing stores like Johnston & Murphy shoes and Brooks Brothers being interested in that type of venue."
One reason is that airports are making bigger spaces available for retail. Another is that passengers are getting to the airport earlier and staying there longer, he said. New security regulations also are changing what types of concessions might be most popular in the terminal compared with the concourses.
"We're trying to take the best of what other airports are doing," Heck said. He named the airports in Munich, Germany; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Pittsburgh; and Portland, Ore., as good examples.
DIA is already preparing to introduce a terminal marketplace near the fountain that could accommodate small local businesses whose owners want to try selling things like coffee or flowers, particularly to local residents meeting arriving passengers.
DIA also hopes the master plan will help clarify what types of concessions it is looking for and how submissions will be evaluated.
"It needs to be a level playing field," Heck said. "We're just making it very transparent."
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