FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- The Food Network is getting into the restaurant business in a location not always associated with good food: An airport.
The channel has opened its first Food Network Kitchen at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in South Florida in the JetBlue terminal.
"The dynamic of food and travel has changed," said Sergei Kuharsky, general manager of Food Network’s new business enterprises. "You used to never go in and think about eating at an airport."
Now, with passengers arriving early to get through security and limited options for in-flight food, there’s a market for airport dining. "We are responding to that opportunity," Kuharsky said.
The Food Network Kitchen is the only eatery serving hot food at the JetBlue concourse, but the network’s brand is a big attention-getter.
Since opening Nov. 8, the Food Network Kitchen has averaged 1,500 customers a day.
"Airport locations are very busy, but this one especially," said Jean-Pierre Turgot, general manager for Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services, which partnered with the Food Network to provide chef-inspired meals at the airport and is also a partner in Food Network-branded food sold at concession stands and stadiums. "It’s the highest revenue producer at the airport."
There are no waiters, so customers sit at tables after ordering at the counter or they can get takeout food, either made to order or readymade items like sandwiches and salads.
The menu promises organic and sustainable ingredients and offers dishes with connections to local ingredients and regional culture, such as a Florida shrimp po’boy ($13) and a salmon burger with Key lime mayo ($14).
South Florida’s Latin culture is reflected in items such as the Cuban breakfast burrito ($8) and a black beans and rice burger with "mojo mayo" ($12). Also on the menu: fried pickles with Key lime mayo ($6); sweet potato fries with Key lime tartar sauce ($5); and a Cuban sandwich ($12).
Beverages range from espresso to entwine, the Food Network’s wine brand, to locally-inspired cocktails like Lansky’s Run, named for the Prohibition-era gangster Meyer Lansky.
The design of the restaurant resembles the cable network’s test kitchen: a butcher block bar counter, subway tiling, stainless steel surfaces and pots and pans hanging in a row -- only here, they hang behind a cash register.
The network’s logo is plastered on everything from to-go boxes to brown paper bags filled with jelly beans and chocolate-covered pretzels. Most of the TVs are tuned to the Food Network, though some show sports or news. There are also some fun facts on display: A poster near the cash register details local ingredients used in the meals, while paper placemats explain how to filet a fish and describe different cuts of beef.
"We really wanted to bring our culinary expertise to the forefront and bring the brand to life," Food Network’s Kuharsky said. "I think people are going to be drawn to the brand, but it also comes down to taste."
The Food Network and Delaware North Companies plan to open more outlets in the spring at the busy JetBlue terminal. Another Food Network Kitchen is scheduled to open at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport by the end of 2013.