- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) - It’s a place where one can buy $10,000 watches, eat gourmet pizza from a $40,000 oven imported from Italy or sip on wine stored in state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled cases.

All while enjoying the stylings of musicians on two baby grand pianos.

These are just a touch of the amenities at Detroit Metropolitan Airport under its revamped concessions program in the McNamara Terminal, The Detroit News (https://detne.ws/1TF45GD ) reported. It’s all to drive up non-airline revenue with an assortment of retail and food and beverage selections that Metro officials and passengers say rival any airport in America.

Bigalora Cucina, Plum Market-Zingerman’s, P.F. Chang’s, Andiamo and Chick-fil-A are among the brand-name restaurants in the terminal. And retail isn’t far behind with a new Estee Lauder Beauty Boutique - the flagship airport store - as well as a Porsche Design store that sells watches (yes, some for $10,000), shoes and pens made with car parts, and gift stores sponsored by the New York Times, the Economist magazine and CNBC.

The goal, airport officials say, is to drive revenue but also offer an eclectic array of choices for travelers coming in from abroad and local passengers who use the Delta Air Lines hub.

And they are banking on revenue jumping from $42 million in 2013 to an estimated $63 million for the 61 new concessions, most of which came online last year. And with the recent surge in passenger traffic to more than 33 million annually, airport officials hope to cash in on the success.

“This is like the mall on steroids,” said Jessica Inscoe, 27, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who with her friend Julie Burrows was in awe of Metro Airport’s new concessions. The women, who were on their way to a bachelorette party in Montreal, had Chick-fil-A delivered to their table on a two-hour layover. Playing in the background was a pianist.

Burrows, 27, also of Charlotte and who hadn’t been to Detroit’s airport in five years, added: “I don’t remember it being this nice. It’s very swanky.”

The amenities, including the ability to order food at the gate from a kiosk or smartphone, have blown away travelers such as William Adamek, who ordered from a touchscreen tablet a panino sandwich from one of the Eastern Market restaurants.

“I’ve been to a lot of airports, but I’ve never seen anything like this with the touch-menu pad,” said Adamek, 35, a longtime Army officer from Ford Hood, Texas, and was traveling last week to Charlotte for a wedding.

“I really like it. Having a place right next to the gate I’m going out of is really convenient. And get my own privacy and order at my own table with my own charger and book. I think it’s a really good idea.”

Joe Nardone, vice president in charge of Metro Airport’s concessions, said he has heard praise both locally and nationally about the variety offered at the McNamara terminal.

“We have things that people don’t see in other airports and they don’t see on the street,” Nardone said. “The positive nature of our offerings is huge.”

This year, the top two restaurants in terms of sales have been Plum Market-Zingerman’s and P.F. Chang’s. On the retail side, the Estee Lauder store and the Wall Street Journal/Starbucks location are the lead earners. All of them are new locations that opened last year and a few have already garnered some national airport awards.

Airport officials aren’t done at the McNamara. In coming months Metro will be introducing new food and beverage options such as Cat Cora’s Taproom, Subway, Harvest & Grounds as well as a Robert Mondavi Experience for wine lovers.

And bids are being reviewed for the North Terminal, with new stores and restaurants expected to open in 2018.

Even though prices are 10 percent higher in the airport than at regular locations, Nardone said airport officials are keen on keeping costs in line.

“It’s expensive to travel. We’re not going to deny that,” he said. “We all understand that we’re going to pay a little bit more at the airport. But we think we’re doing it the right way, and we’re trying to help keep prices down. We try to make sure we have reasonable price points.”

Money was spent to make the concessions stand out. Plum Market-Zingerman’s shelled out $18,000 apiece for its Enomatic wine dispenser that prevents oxygen from entering and gives perfect measurements. The $40,000 domed oven in the Bigalora Cucina can cook a pizza in 11/2 minutes at 765 degrees.

And in the Porsche Design-Hugo Boss combined shop, it’s not often someone purchases a $10,000 watch, but store manager Vickie Terry recalled a buyer last year who took the plunge.

“Everyone knows it’s a luxury store,” Terry said. “It’s just like going to Somerset. You know when you got to Somerset, you expect the best. And the brand.”

But Terry, who often will escort businessmen into the airport to buy items even when they aren’t traveling, said everything in the store isn’t cost prohibitive.

“I have $70 baseball caps in here, too,” she said. “There are items that are obtainable.”

Lisa Kyrstofick, who manages the Estee Lauder store just below the entering escalators in the middle of the terminal, said business has been brisk and the back corridor area was opened to attract more international travelers.

The store’s biggest challenge, she said, has been the location, because when travelers are coming down the escalators, “it’s hard to tell that we are here.” But owners have drawn attention by having more events.

“I’ve seen a lot of good energy in here since this year’s started due to the fact that more people are aware that we’re here,” Krystofick said. “On a smaller day, we’ll do 150 transactions. On a busier day, we can do up to 280 transactions.”

And then there’s the music.

Keith Ferguson has played with the likes of Anita Baker and Jennifer Holiday, and is the musical director for the classic group the Spinners. And on many days, one can find Ferguson playing piano tunes on a white baby grand next to the water fountain in the middle of the McNamara Terminal.

“The passengers love it;” it relieves stress, said Ferguson, who has seen passengers ballroom dance. “It’s a great addition, and I think more airports around the country are going to start doing it.”

Tanya Allen, partner and vice president of Hojeij Branded Foods and AP United LLC, which owns and operates in a joint venture 10 restaurants at the airport, said it was her idea to put the piano near the fountain.

“We love music; we’re Motown,” she said.

Allen said she asked airport officials to expand the area and put a piano in “and keep it public, keep to it open, but provide an additional service to enhance the passenger experience by bringing the music in this location. It has been a fantastic addition.”

Bary Seldon, 54, of Washington Township, said he travels 50 to 75 times a year as a clinical sales representative, and it’s difficult to find healthy food offerings at airports.

But last week, he munched on an all-natural chicken salad at the Plum Market-Zingerman’s location and felt good about his choice.

“I like to eat healthy, and I think typically when I come to the airport there are not that many options for me,” Seldon said. “I cover Ann Arbor so I’m familiar with Zingerman’s and the quality. I was very pleased when I saw this open.”

Seldon said he has traveled to “every airport I can think of” and he gives Metro props on its concessions.

“It’s right up there,” he said. “It’s nicer than it was before.”

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Information from: The Detroit News, https://detnews.com/


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