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DBE Operators Contributing Hot Concepts To Airport Concessions

The disadvantaged business enterprise program has its critics. There are always organizations arguing that it is unconstitutional to enforce quotas for minority- or women-owned businesses or granting awards to DBEs just to meet established participation guidelines.

Supporters have also spent much time lobbying Congress for streamlined certification rules or for increases to net worth limits they’ve said are needed to make the program more viable.

But frustrations aside, it’s hard to dispute the impact the program has had on airport concessions programs and on business owners looking for opportunities to get their shot. Whether it’s from newcomers getting their first restaurant or store or longtime operators creating new businesses, new DBE-operated concepts pop up throughout the industry year after year.

“The DBE program has helped many minorities, like myself, to be a part of the American Dream,” says Niki Smith Evans, president of Express NSB Inc. “I wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to own and operate … in the airport if it were not for the DBE program.”

Express NSB Inc.,
La Salsa Pronto

The opportunity to which Evans is referring to is her La Salsa Pronto restaurant in Terminal C at George Bush Interconti-nental (IAH). Through a partnership with SSP America, she opened the authentic Mexican quick-casual restaurant this year and she’s gotten good feedback from her customers, both in words and in sales.
“La Salsa has exceeded our expectations,” she says. “The concept has been accepted very well by the traveling public, as well as the airport employees. We get comments regularly from customers like, ‘I’m glad there is food in the airport that’s a complete meal and is also a healthy choice.'”

La Salsa offers healthy food choices, such as grilled chicken, mahi mahi, shrimp and fresh vegetables. Burritos are a specialty, as are fresh salads. Guacamole is made fresh throughout the day, she says.

In getting started, Evans had the advantage of growing up in a family of entrepreneurs. She started working for her parents in the airport food service business in 1990, shortly after graduating from college, when they were awarded a cookie and pastry concession at IAH. That business grew to more than a dozen food and beverage concessions and she spent much of her time training, opening and managing many of those facilities.

“I have taken these life lessons and used them to my advantage,” she says.
Evans hopes to open more La Salsa restaurants at IAH and possibly at Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW). She is opening a news and gift concept soon with another joint venture partner and is also considering franchise opportunities.
“I love working on airport business projects,” she says.

The Grove Inc.,
Fresh Market On The Go

Michelle Dukler’s concept, The Grove, has been in the airport industry for decades. The company recently developed Fresh Market on the Go, an upscale grab-and-go concept featuring healthy snacks, salads, sandwiches and meals.

“You have your basics that everybody wants,” says Dukler, president and CEO. “I wanted it to look and taste real. That sets us apart.”

The lone Fresh Market thus far is at Chicago O’Hare International (ORD). Dukler would not provide details but she says there is interest in opening more at airports across the U.S.

“We are going to be proposing more,” she says.

Dukler and the rest of her team plan to continue adding additional franchise operations, as well. Although Fresh Market on the Go was developed internally by her team at The Grove, she thinks her company is positioned to become a franchisee for other brands that want to enter the airport in the near future.

Read the entire story in ARN’s June 2010 issue! 
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