Dining With Denise Neil

New terminal’s dining offerings make passengers reconsider airport food

The Wichita Eagle

Before Wednesday, when Tim Elia and his family flew out of Wichita’s airport, they’d make sure they ate before they arrived at the airport. The old terminal’s food offerings, in his opinion, were less than impressive.

“It was all kind of nasty,” he said.

But on Wednesday morning, as his family waited to depart on a trip to Disney World out of the just-opened terminal at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, they decided to give airport food another chance. Tim and his wife, Desiree, ordered breakfast sandwiches and hash brown medallions from Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the new vendors in the fancy new food court just outside the fancy new gates.

“Obviously, the choices are better now,” Tim said. “This is a huge improvement.”

Passengers traveling out of Wichita’s airport from now on will find that their dining and drinking options have changed significantly since the old terminal closed Tuesday and the new one opened Wednesday.

The Burger King kiosk and Great American Bagel bar have been replaced by a food court featuring chain restaurants Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick-Fil-A and a franchise of downtown’s River City Brewing Co. The new terminal also has several grab-and-go-style vending areas and a couple of bars serving wine, River City beers on tap and other beers from bottles. Mixed drinks also are available at the concourse bar and at River City.

The food service at the new terminal was contracted to MSE Branded Foods, a company out of Gainesville, Ga., that specializes in food and beverage services at hub airports similar to Wichita’s. The company services four other airports, and when it won the bid for Wichita, it tried to determine which chains and which local restaurants would best serve the airport’s needs and which ones Wichita fliers wanted, said the company’s president and CEO, Jack Hough.

“One of the top things was having a local representation,” said Hough, who ultimately selected River City as the local option. “We did research locally and decided that was the best concept that fit the airport’s needs and met our needs as far as food.”

River City’s restaurant in the terminal, which is past the security checkpoint, is the only place in the airport not designed to look sleek, modern and metallic, said airport director Victor White. Officials wanted the restaurant to serve as an ode to Old Town, and it looks like a little corner of the downtown brewery, which opened in March 1993 at 150 N. Mosley. There’s a bar fitted with taps serving eight of the brewery’s locally-made beers, and the restaurant has brick walls and wood floors.

River City’s airport menu features many but not all of the Old Town location’s biggest hits, including salads, soups, pizzas, mac and cheese, burgers, sandwiches and more. The prices are about 10 percent higher than they are in Old Town.

Unlike in Old Town, the airport River City also offers breakfast, with items ranging from eggs Benedict to breakfast quesadillas. It also will serve an exclusive-to-the-airport Aviation Pale Ale, said owner Chris Arnold, who described the invitation to become a part of the airport project as “very flattering.”

Next door to River City is a small food court that houses the Dunkin’ Donuts and Chick-Fil-A counters next to lots of tables with bright red chairs. Dunkin’ Donuts offers a large case of doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches, regular sandwiches and coffee drinks. (Those who were hoping for Starbucks will have to make do here. Only one concessions company is authorized to put Starbucks in airports, and it did not submit a bid in Wichita, White said.) The Chick-Fil-A offers fried and grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, waffle fries, salads, soft drinks and desserts. Prices at both are also slightly higher than in non-airport locations. For example, at Chick-Fil-A, a fried chicken sandwich meal deal is $5.89 in town, and at the airport, it’s $7.19. Like all others nationwide, this Chick-Fil-A will also be closed on Sundays.

Other airport food options include the pre-security check Aviator’s Cafe, which sits next to the ticketing gates and includes a Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk and a bar serving beer and wine. On the main concourse, near gate two, is the Grab & Fly restaurant, which serves pre-packaged food, coffee, wine and beer. Also on the concourse is the Air Capital Bar, which serves beer and wine and its own menu of appetizers, soups, salads and pizzas.

The airport exclusively serves River City Brewing Co. beers on tap; non-River-City beers are available in cans and bottles.

Business flier Greg Giefer, who was departing for Indianapolis on Wednesday morning, also said he never really considered eating at the airport before. There just weren’t many options, he said.

After finishing a pre-flight Chick-Fil-A breakfast sandwich, he said that’s all changed.

“Now, I’ll look forward to eating here,” he said.

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