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Behind the Line: Fine dining on the fly
One Flew South faces unique airport challenges
By Lauren Kramer
March 01, 2009
There aren't too many restaurants where sushi knives are
chained to their cutting boards and FBI background checks for
staff - including the dishwasher - are mandatory. Then again,
there aren't that many fine-dining establishments situated in
the midst of a busy airport.
When One Flew South opened last November in the E concourse
of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport,
Corporate Chef Todd Richards was confident the restaurant would
fill a much-needed niche. The restaurant, owned by Pot Likker
Creations in Atlanta, is a joint venture between Jackmont
Hospitality and Global Concessions.
"It's a market that has never really been tapped, and we
feel there's a strong need for it in American airports, where
people want a great experience throughout their traveling
time," says Richards.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the country's
busiest airport, and One Flew South offers what it calls
"southernational cuisine" in an 80-seat restaurant that
includes a sushi bar and a main bar. A take-out service called
Fare-Well is available as a branded line of meals to go. That's
been a popular choice among travelers as the food is made fresh
to order and designed to travel well.
"Our sushi has become really popular to go, as has our
burger and even our entrées," says Richards. "People are
telling us they want great food, and want to be able to take it
on the plane with them. Some are even calling ahead of time and
placing take-out orders in advance of their flights."
Business at One Flew South is propelled by the dearth of
fresh food on domestic flights, which makes airline passengers
more willing to spend money on food in the airport.
"People are prepared to spend $15 to $20 in the airport for
good food, and even fast food in the airport will set you back
$12 to $15," says Richards. "Add a bit more and at One Flew
South you can get a really great meal."
Appetizers on the menu include Georgia shrimp, and clam and
miso soup. Entrées are priced between $18 and $27 and include
pan-roasted snapper and crispy smoked Georgia trout
"With all of our food, we try to incorporate Georgian
cuisine by adding elements of the state," Richards says. The
snapper, for example, features locally grown greens, mustard
seeds and grits.
The restaurant's airport location can present a unique set
of constraints. The staff is held accountable for every last
knife, and if any go missing the fines from the Transportation
Security Administration are heavy. It can also be challenging
procuring the regional products the restaurant relies on.
"Not everyone can just drive onto the tarmac, a situation
that has forced us to supply our own delivery truck and
driver," Richards says. "Our driver picks up a lot of our
products because insurance premiums are very high just to be
able to drive in an airport."
Then there's the FBI security clearance that's necessary for
every staff member. Finding staff can be challenging because
not everyone is able to pass the stringent security checks.
"I'm not sure what, exactly, is involved in the security
checks, but we do know that we've screened people, wanted to
hire them and then discovered they didn't make it through the
security clearance," Richards says. Even if they do, the time
it takes to process their security clearance varies. "Sometimes
it takes a day to process; other times it can take up to four
weeks," he says.
The clever cocktails and sushi bar at One Flew South have
been a big draw for diners, and business has been brisk since
the opening, Richards says.
"We know the flight schedules, so we know when we'll get
busy, but one thing we don't know is the mix of clients we're
going to receive at any given time."
In the airport environment, the old adage you can't judge a
book by its cover has renewed meaning when it comes to
understanding restaurant patrons.
"Sometimes people will come into the restaurant in blue
jeans and a T-shirt and order $200 of sushi. Other times we'll
get diners in shorts just back from the Bahamas, ordering a
$150 bottle of wine because they're still on vacation," he
Despite the constant turnover of jet-lagged passengers, busy
times at One Flew South have been consistent with meal times
and for the most part, only a few stragglers remain behind at 9
p.m. when the restaurant starts to slow down for the day's end.
But even then, flexibility is key in an airport restaurant,
"If there's a big layover in the airport at 10 p.m., our
usual closing time, we have to stay open. Open-mindedness is
really critical in an airport."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British