In an escalating war over the lucrative contract to sell food at LAX, incumbent bidder HMS Host put on a tasting this morning at Maria's Italian Kitchen. Assessing the food is not in my skill set, so the Weekly sent a food critic (who didn't like it).

Meantime, Host continues to play an effective inside game at City Hall. On Monday, Host charged that rival bidder SSP should be disqualified due to a conflict of interest. That was enough to get the city to cancel tomorrow's hearing on the contract while the city attorney's office studies the matter.

But it looks like Host has the same conflict.

In a 7-page letter to the council's Board of Referred Powers, Host's lawyers allege that SSP America should be disqualified from bidding because it has a business relationship with one of the consulting firms the airport hired to work on its request for bids.

Host argues that should taint the entire process, because the consultant, SmartDesign, had a financial interest in skewing the bid process in SSP's favor.

“As far as we have been able to determine, SSP is the only airport concessions operator for whom SmartDesign works,” wrote Host's attorney, Jerold Neuman.

Not so, according to SmartDesign. In fact, SmartDesign has worked for Host as recently as 2008, and is currently working on a proposal with Host in the Middle East.

Seems like this airport concession business is a fairly small world, and on some level everybody's in bed with everybody else.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Coby King, spokesman for Host, says that Host has “flat out denied that we've done any work with SmartDesign since 2005.”

SmartDesign says otherwise, so there's a disconnect somewhere.

Previous coverage:
July 1: Food Fight at LAX
July 9: L.A. City Council To Award Massive LAX Concession Contracts
July 19: Tony Cárdenas To Hold Fundraiser At Restaurant Bidding For LAX Business
July 23: Cárdenas Won't Take From LAX Concessions; But His Chief Of Staff Will
July 29: LAX Media “Eat-In” Brings Protesters Out
July 30: Fate Of LAX Concession Contracts To Be Continued

LA Weekly