More than $20 million in restaurant improvements are arriving at Honolulu International Airport at a time of bankruptcies and other turbulence in the airline industry.
Officials hope the upgrades encourage travelers to spend more time and money at the airport and leave with a better impression.
First to begin serving meals was Dewar’s Clubhouse Bar & Grille, which opened at the Central Concourse yesterday as part of improvements planned by food concessionaire HMSHost Corp. this year and next.
State Deputy Transportation Director Brian Sekiguchi praised the company for its commitment to airport improvements.
The state is adding a parking garage in December and plans other upgrades, but Sekiguchi said the improved restaurants help to make “a first and best impression for our tourists and residents.”
The first travelers into Dewar’s after a blessing ceremony said they liked the option of a classier place to eat before boarding their West Coast flight.
“We’re delighted to have such a nice restaurant in an airport. Generally you don’t find that,” said Leah Tuttle of Sequim, Wash. “We like a place where we can come sit down and relax.”
She and her husband, Allan, were traveling with Dave and Laura Reynolds, of nearby Port Angeles, Wash.
They ordered a round of tall margaritas and an old-fashioned with Scotch — Allan Tuttle figured drinking anything but Scotch at a restaurant named Dewar’s was like ordering fish at a steakhouse.
For food, they settled on a crab louis salad, a clubhouse Cobb salad, a chicken-and-brie sandwich and a kalua pig sandwich, all running between $12 and $15 each.
Elie Maalouf, president and CEO of HMSHost, flew in from Washington, D.C., for the blessing. He said stressed-out travelers are looking to relax and get a drink and some food as they navigate security, canceled flights and higher fares.
Despite worries over fuel prices, a looming recession and other business concerns, Maalouf said the state’s airports remain a good investment for his company.
“Airlines change over time. New airlines come and old airlines go sometimes. But great destinations like Honolulu, like Maui, stay forever,” he said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”
HMSHost is offering options to travelers, from grabbing a frappuccino on the go, through sitting down for a pizza at California Pizza Kitchen ASAP to the restaurant ambience of Dewar’s.
Next month, the company will open a Gordon Biersch restaurant near Gates 27 and 28. Samurai Sushi, CPK and a Jamba Juice aren’t far behind, according to HMSHost Hawai’i district manager Alan Yamamoto.
In July, a Kona Brew Pub, which now has restaurants in Koko Marina and Kona, will open at the airport’s main terminal, Yamamoto said. Another Burger King, a Lahaina Chicken and two Cold Stone Creamery restaurants are expected by year’s end. And the food court at the main terminal will undergo a renovation, he said.
Sekiguchi knows some residents would like to see more food and drink options before the security checkpoints but he said that is a lower priority. Those who follow travel patterns say “security anxiety” pushes more people to get through security before sitting down to eat, drink and relax.