Local and minority-owned vendors selected to operate shops in Kansas City’s new airport terminal are more than up to the task, said Carlos Mortera, emphasizing the power of adding flavor to the highly anticipated project.
“Most airports aren’t filled with local businesses,” noted Mortera, founder of Poio Mexican Barbeque. “We in Kansas City, I feel like we’re a city who likes to do different things. And if we want to make the city a better place, we need to be thinking differently.”
The Kansas City City Council voted 9-2 Thursday in support of Vantage Airport Group managing the airport’s food, beverage and retail operations at Kansas City International Airport. The new $1.5 billion terminal is expected to open in March 2023.
Vantage projects $1.5 billion in concessions sales over the course of the 15-year contract.
A key component of its now-approved proposal: local brands generating local jobs and providing opportunities for small, women- and minority-owned businesses. (Vantage also committed to opening 100 percent of the concession offering on the first day of terminal operations.)
At more than 1 million square feet, the Kansas City International Airport New Terminal project, Build KCI, is the largest single infrastructure project in the city’s history.
Slated to open in March 2023, the facility will replace the aging three-terminal complex with a single terminal and 6,000-plus space garage. The facility will open with 39 gates and the ability to expand up to 50 gates.
Vendors expected to join the terminal with Vantage’s winning bid range from Soiree Steak and Oyster House, which currently operates a restaurant in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, to Martin City Brewing Co., headquartered in the southeast corner of the city, and Made in KC, a retailer spread across the two-state metro.
Click here to learn more about the selected small business, including those within the City Market Food Hall and American Royal Tasting Bar concepts.
Mortera was approached by two competing airport management companies offering to partner with Poio, he shared, but Vantage — which has worked with 31 other airports and currently manages operations at such major sites as New York’s LaGuardia Terminal B and Midway in Chicago — ultimately stood out because of its commitment to supporting diverse business owners.
“Vantage wanted to do something different at our airport, something that hasn’t been done before,” Mortera said, noting the New York-based company’s aggressive inclusion goals. “Also, [individuals on the Vantage team] are second-generation immigrants, so I definitely want to support another Brown person.”
Click here to read more about the potential for generational impact from the Vantage airport contract.
With the vote on the 15-year management contract striking up controversy — opponents argued Vantage was too inexperienced and would leave too much of the operational responsibilities to local entrepreneurs — Mortera believes critics were afraid of going against the grain, he shared.
“I hate to throw the race card — but I feel like at this stage with this much money, the high percentage of minority founders was something being questioned,” Mortera continued. “There was a lot of, ‘How are these people going to accomplish this?’ … We know we can do it. We run businesses every day.”
Poio plans to bring its signature meals to the airport, along with breakfast and more travel-friendly options, Mortera said.
“People from all over the world are going to be coming through this airport and seeing our restaurant,” he said, excitedly. “It’s going to be a crazy ride, but it’s going to be fun.”
Click here to read about Poio’s path to reopening its popular Mexican barbecue in Kansas City, Kansas this summer.
Along with supporting minority business owners, about 80 percent of the businesses featured in the airport will have local ties, according to Vantage.
Made in KC — which made its name as the premier curator and retailer of Kansas City-made products — is set to open one of its marketplace concepts in the new terminal.
“From what I understand, this airport will be one of the most locally-operated, locally-represented airports in the country,” said Keith Bradley, who serves as a co-founder of Made in KC.
“Supporting local businesses is what we are all about at Made in KC, so this is a huge step forward in our goal,” he continued. “It allows us to take local artists and markers, and put them in front of a platform with a nonstop cycle of travelers coming in and out of our city. … It really creates endless opportunities for the small businesses we work with to grow and succeed in other markets outside of Kansas City.”
After working with Vantage for the past two years, Bradley has great trust in the airport group’s expertise and proposal, he said.
“There was a process set up a long time ago by the airport selection committee that included a variety of stakeholders across the industry, including those who know airport concessions very well,” Bradley said, describing the task that considered bids for the terminal project and ultimately sent its recommendation to the city council. “That committee unanimously selected Vantage’s bid — that really speaks volumes to their due diligence and the quality of the proposal they put together.”
Airport visitors can expect to find many of the Kansas City products represented in existing Made in KC marketplaces at the new terminal, Bradley teased.
“This is not only the best option for Kansas City’s airport, but for the hundreds of small businesses involved,” Bradley said. “We’re really excited to have a robust representation of local goods within our airport for the first time.”
Click here to read about Made in KC’s new location in Lenexa.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.