These are tough times to be a celebrity chef. Last year, a star-studded group of L.A. chefs (including Nancy Silverton, Joaquim Splichal, Mary Sue Milliken, and Susan Feniger) came very close to winning a spot at L.A. International Airport.
But, as we detailed in last week's cover story, “Mr. Juice: How Lobbyist John Ek Gets His Way At City Hall,” the chefs were thwarted by bare-knuckle City Hall lobbying on behalf of the incumbent contractor, HMS Host. The chefs' winning bid was thrown out and LAX restarted the bid process, which gave Host a chance to hang on to its lucrative airport business.
“We're a little shocked,” said Pat Murray, executive vice president of SSP America, which teamed with the chefs to bid for the LAX contract. “We're completely mind-boggled at how this could be the result of two years of work.”
The contract includes restaurants at Terminals 4, 5, 7 and 8. Altogether, it was worth $60 million in revenues per year for 10 years — or $600 million. So it was worth fighting for.
After the bids were thrown out last year, the airport split the contract into three parts. HMS Host, Delaware North and Camacho's each won one. SSP was shut out.
SSP can still protest, but it looks like a long shot at this point.