Hobby Airport will soon be home to a group of new restaurants thanks to a new concessions contract. In a 11-6 vote, Houston City Council approved the 10-year, $470 million agreement with a local subsidiary of Areas, a Spain-based company with operations in airports around the world, including more than 130 restaurants at 10 U.S. airports, according to a release.
Areas has partnered with a number of local restaurants, including Killen’s Barbecue, SpindleTap Brewery, and Galveston’s The Spot. National brands including Yard House, Raising Cane’s, and Starbucks are also part of the company’s plans.
Approving the agreement came with controversy. Areas will be replacing Houston’s Pappas Restaurants, which has operated at the airport for 20 years. A social media campaign to encourage council to reject the contract garnered more than 50,000 signatures. Pappas CEO Chris Pappas issued a lengthy statement criticizing the vote and saying that the company will “explore legal options” related to the decision.
“We are disappointed in the City of Houston’s decision. Houstonians deserve a fair and transparent procurement process that supports local businesses. We did not get that from our leaders,” Pappas said.
Pappas Restaurants will offer its airport employees positions at their other Houston-area restaurants with “the same compensation, benefits, and seniority as their current position,” he added.
Ultimately, the decision came down to money. The Areas contract emerged as the winner of the city’s scoring process due to the percentage of revenue that would be provided to the City of Houston.
"One thing that will always be concrete is the percent of revenue that comes back to the city. You can't change that," District J Councilmember Edward Pollard told the Houston Chronicle. "One group was 22.2 (percent), the other group was at 15.5 (percent). You can't change those numbers. That's the only thing that you can hang your hat on."
The city states that it followed the same procurement process for Hobby’s other concessions contract. 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.Travelers should start to see the new restaurants opening later this year. All 10 new establishments are expected to open by November 2024.
As for the agreement, projections estimate that it will generate as much as $104 million for Houston airports. Areas will hire more than 200 people to staff the restaurants.
“The new concessions package brings together an all-star list of fantastic dining concepts that includes well-known Houston area and national brands,” Jim Szczesniak, chief operations officer for Houston Airports, said in a statement. “Houston Airports is relentless in our quest to make our passengers happy. I am confident these new concessions will elevate the already incredible experience guests of Hobby Airport have come to expect from the first and only 5-Star airport in North America.”
“We are excited to partner with the City of Houston and Houston Airports to bring a distinctive program that complements the city’s culinary virtues and ethnic diversity,” said Carlos Bernal, CEO of Areas. “Travelers to William P. Hobby Airport will be delighted by an exceptional lineup of concepts, which represent the essence of the city’s greatness.”