R.I. Airport Corp. seeks local restaurants to revitalize airport dining options

THE RHODE ISLAND AIRPORT CORP. is looking to revamp food and beverage options within Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport, with a request for proposals from local eateries looking to open within the airport. PBN FILE PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI

WARWICK – Rather than schlepping a flimsy box of pizza strips or a bag of clam cakes into the airport and through security, travelers might soon be able to buy them directly within Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport. 

That’s the vision behind the Rhode Island Airport Corp.’s request seeking local restaurants, coffee houses, breweries and wineries to open within the state’s primary airport. The Feb. 14 notice of intent aims to revitalize the airport’s food and beverage operations with an emphasis on local businesses.

“We think travelers and visitors will appreciate getting that taste of Rhode Island,” John Goodman, a RIAC spokesman, said. “It’s also a good marketing opportunity for restaurants.”

Food and dining options at the Warwick airport have decreased in recent years, with four of the 10 available spots in the concourse and food court left empty after the contract with the prior concession management company ended at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Agreements inked in 2020 with a Dunkin’ Donuts operator and a concessions company that runs several regional-fare restaurants are both set to expire this June.

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THE BUDWEISER BOWTIE restaurant and bar at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport is one of several dining spots that has been closed since the pandemic, and is open for a new local restaurant or beverage company to take over. /COURTESY RHODE ISLAND AIRPORT CORP.

Which means all 10 spots are up for grabs, with reduced rents and shorter-term agreements (five rather than 10 years) aimed at making it easier for local eateries to get involved, according to RIAC. Interested businesses can also submit proposals for more than one location, according to the notice.

Previously, RIAC has signed deals with a “master concessionaire” – typically one, national concessions company – to run the restaurants and casual grab-and-go dining options. Which meant local restaurants could only join if they were brought in by that concessions company, according to Goodman.

Usually, the dining options focused on fan-favorite chains like Dunkin and Starbucks, along with restaurants touting “regional fare” but operated by the national concessions company rather than a local eatery.

However, master concessions companies don’t seem as interested in running food and beverage operations out of T.F. Green anymore. None responded to the request for proposals RIAC published in the fall, which prompted the quasi-public airport operator to reevaluate.

The shifted focus on local restaurants at the airport will require more work from the management perspective, but also offers new opportunities for travelers and companies, Goodman said.

“We see it as kind of a silver lining of the pandemic,” he said.

RIAC has worked with local chambers of commerce, as well as the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and area restaurant groups, to get the word out. There is no goal for a minimum number of responses, Goodman said.

The revamp also comes amid other plans to expand the physical infrastructure and flights out of the state’s primary airport. Budget airline Breeze Airways plans to invest $160 million in opening a permanent operations base out of Green starting this year, with up to 20 direct routes and room for six to eight aircraft carriers, PBN previously announced. RIAC is also forging ahead with a $1 billion, 20-year master plan, having recently received federal approval, that includes capital improvements such as gate expansions and terminal upgrades.

Interested eateries and beverage operators must respond by April 7, with new contracts signed beginning by July. RIAC’s board of directors will review all submissions.

For more information visit https://www.flyri.com/riac/procurement/

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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