A fight has broken out between one of Houston’s most prominent restaurant groups and the City of Houston over the future of its restaurants at Hobby Airport. Pappas Restaurants has launched a social media campaign — dubbed #SaveOurPappas — calling on supporters to urge Houston City Council to reject a proposed concessions contract with Areas, a subsidiary of the Spain-based Areas SAU.
As reported in the Houston Chronicle, the 10-year, $470 million dollar deal would end Pappas Restaurant’s 20-year tenure at Hobby. If approved, Areas, which operates concessions in more than 80 airports worldwide and nine in the United States, would bring local restaurants to Hobby such as Killen’s Barbecue, SpindleTap Brewery, Thoroughgood Coffee, and Galveston’s The Spot. The proposal also includes national chains such as Raising Cane’s and Longhorn Steakhouse.
Getting to this point has required three RFPs since 2019, including one in December 2021 that the city canceled in September 2022. The proposed contract comes from bids submitted in October 2022. In January, council approved a separate, 10-year agreement with LaTrelle’s Management that will bring local restaurants such as Dish Society, Fat Cat Creamery, and Common Bond to Hobby.
Pappas director of marketing Christina Pappas tells CultureMap that the company has concerns about how city scored the bids to determine the winner. The company’s proposal includes many of its popular restaurants, including Pappasito’s, Pappas Burger, Pappadeaux, and Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse. It also includes local bakery the Original Kolache Shoppe and Chick-fil-A.
“We’re asking for transparency. We’re asking to look at the score cards,” she says. “We’re asking to see what the numbers look like. We’re asking why one of the RFPs was abruptly canceled. We’re asking that council is provided with all the information they need to make the decision that’s best for the City of Houston.”
The city has declined requests to release the scoring sheets, the Chroniclereports.
In a lengthy statement provided by Mary Benton, communications director for Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city says it is “disheartened” by the “inaccuracies and disinformation” of Pappas’ allegations. Benton notes that the same bid process awarded Pappas the airport contract 20 years ago.
“The competitive procurement process does not measure the quality of an individual, but rather the rate of return received by the City of Houston and the quality of service provided to passengers,” she said. “The rate of return is not the same as projected sales. The proposed awardee offered a significantly higher rate of return and delivered the local concepts sought after by Houston Airports through this procurement process. The City of Houston is obligated by law to make its decision based on the results of the procurement process — not a popularity contest.”
Christina Pappas acknowledges that Areas has offered the city a higher rate of return but argues that Pappas’ bid reflects its own data from 20 years of experience.
“We’ve operated at Hobby. We know how much money it can make,” she says. “We want to make sure the numbers we are proposing are sustainable for business and not just to get a bid.”
While the Areas bid does include the local restaurants mentioned above, Pappas questions how deeply involved those restaurants will be with their airport locations. “Are those brands operating it or is the concessions group operating it,” she asks. “Are you going to have the level of service you receive at those other locals restaurants or are you going to have another airport group and their level of quality?”
Ultimately, the decision is up to Houston City Council, which will vote to approve or reject the contract next week. If it approves the proposed deal and Pappas departs, the days of waiting out a layover with a couple of frozen Swamp Thing cocktails will soon come to an end.