The Louisville International Airport is kicking the local flavor of its eateries up a notch.
The airport authority has tapped Maryland-based restaurant company HMSHost and its Florida-based subtenant partner Tinsley Family Concessions to revamp its dining options. The change is part of a $17.5 million renovation of the airport, which includes $8 million collectively invested by HMSHost and Atlanta-based retail company Paradies-Louisville II.
“We’ve got some great local establishments here in the community that we want to brag about,” Skip Miller, executive director of the Louisville airport, said in an interview with Insider Louisville. “Why wouldn’t you?”
HMSHost also crafted two new bourbon-centric restaurant concepts, the Bourbon Academy Tasting Room and Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen.
The Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen will be a library-themed upscale restaurant decorated with branded oak barrels, industrial finishes and reclaimed wood. It will serve more than 100 bourbons and Southern comfort food, according to a news release. Customers also will receive a “library card” with recipes for their favorite cocktails.
At the Bourbon Academy Tasting Room, customers will be able to order flights of bourbons and learn about each via an iPad menu. The menu will include dirty kettle chips, crispy smoked bourbon barbecue wings and other snacks.
The Louisville International Airport authority received proposals from three different companies including HMSHost, Miller said. All included local offerings, but Miller noted that he liked the mix of local and national brands that HMSHost’s proposal included.
“Some airports I think go overboard and have too many local venues, so the visitor doesn’t know what to expect,” Miller said. “It’s a balance.”
National brands that HMSHost will bring to the airport are Smashburger, Chili’s and a new Starbucks Evenings concept, where customers can drink craft beer or wine and eat various small plates. The company also will operate two healthy food kiosk brands, Farmers Market and The Local Rustic Market, which it runs in other airports.
HMSHost estimated the contract’s value at nearly $110 million.
“We look forward to opening this dynamic group of restaurants, including two new HMSHost-created restaurants that celebrate Kentucky’s bourbon making heritage, along with well-loved local and national brands,” Michael Price, HMSHost’s vice president of business development, said in the release.
Tim Koons-McGee, co-owner of The Comfy Cow, told IL that he was approached by HMSHost about licensing the ice cream company’s brand. The Comfy Cow will sell ice cream to Tinsley Family Concessions, which will run and staff the airport shop. He declined to disclose the terms of the deal.
“I think the airport wanted to do something with more local flair, and I’m just thrilled they chose us,” Koons-McGee said. “It is a great opportunity.”
Although Tinsley Family Concessions will operate the site, it will look like a regular Comfy Cow, odd decor and all.
“They’ve been great to work with,” Koons-McGee said. “They really want to capture the essence of the brand, so we’ve been very involved.”
The deal will generate more brand awareness among out-of-town travelers, Koons-McGee said, noting that The Comfy Cow’s pints are moving into grocery stores in new markets, most recently in Whole Foods Markets in Washington, D.C.
HMSHost also operates in more than 100 airports globally, which Koons-McGee hopes will benefit the Louisville ice cream company going forward.
“We just really were thrilled when (HMSHost) came to us. I want to be in more airports,” he said. “Our hope would be that we could get in even more.”
The following is a chart detailing when the new concepts are expected to open, where they will be located and what they are replacing.