The writing had been on the wall for some time: the domestic terminals at O'Hare were offering better and better food choices, most famously Rick Bayless's Tortas Fronteras, yet the international terminal welcoming visitors to one of the world's great food cities had only a small and somewhat dismal array of fast food chains and generic prepackaged food, the very stereotype of "airport dining." That, more than the financial terms, was what doomed the previous concession holder, Chicago Aviation Partners, in the City Council last March, and won the contract for Westfield Concession Management. Today the airport authority unveiled the new terminal design and concessions Westfield promised then— and there's no doubt that the glitzy $26 million renovation they announced and the new restaurants proposed today will transform the experience of arriving in Chicago. In short, we're gaining Bulgari, and losing feeling like you've just landed in Bulgaria.
A number of notable Chicago restaurant names will be present in the airport: Rick Bayless will have a sitdown Tortas Fronteras, while Lettuce Entertain You plans three different concepts, airport versions of Big Bowl and Hub 51 plus a new concept called Urban Olive. Others announced include Intelligentsia Coffee, a Vosges Haut Chocolat store and a version of Wicker Park Italian restaurant Tocco. The other big news, at least for some, will be a mall of duty-free shops from the likes of Bulgari and Ferragamo, which is certainly a feature of other airports worldwide. Missing so far: Chicago-based McDonald's, which was a partner in the previous concession holder, Chicago Aviation Partners, along with at least one former Daley administration official. But only a small portion of the 15 to 25 new restaurant spaces are spoken for, so look for more announcements between now and the redeveloped terminal's planned debut in fall 2013. And while we're at it— what Chicago restaurants would you like to see at O'Hare?
The announcement event this morning came with a slick video; watch it here: