Airport Food Takes Off

The renovated United Airlines Terminal C at Newark Liberty woos travelers with high-concept eateries inspired by high-profile chefs.

Kaedama, a ramen palace conceived by chef Shoushin Yanaura
Eats en Route: The renovated Terminal C aims to improve the food and atmosphere available to air travelers. Future openings will include Kaedama, a ramen palace conceived by chef Shoushin Yanaura and designed by the David Rockwell Group.
Photo courtesy of OTG

If the last meal you had at Newark Liberty International Airport involved a plastic-wrapped bagel or limp french fries, there are two possible explanations. One is that you haven’t flown in awhile. The other is that you didn’t go through United Airlines Terminal C.

The terminal, which reopened last September after a $120 million renovation now approaching its final stages, wants to upgrade your expectations of dining on the fly. In early November, it opened Saison, a French brasserie conceived by international superstar Alain Ducasse. Then came Wabi-Sabi, a dim sum parlor guided by Wilson Tang, who runs Nom Wah Tea Parlor, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in New York. Also in November, Riviera, a place for French country fare, conceived by Food Network personality Alexandra Guarnaschelli, opened along with Nonna’s Meatball Café, from Empire Diner chef and Chopped judge Amanda Freitag. Vanguard Kitchen, serving contemporary seasonal dishes, sprang from the mind of Dan Kluger, chef of Manhattan’s ABC Kitchen.

In December, Jersey chef Ike Aikasa, owner of the esteemed sushi house Shumi in Somerville, helped launch Origami, a sushi and tofu restaurant; and Kevin Pemoulie, chef and co-owner of Thirty Acres in Jersey City, one of NJM’s Top 25, created the menu for a wine bar, Oeno. Caps, an Asian beer garden, opened with a menu created by Dale Talde, owner of the new Talde Jersey City.

By press time, more than 40 new venues—with concepts ranging from mini-market to quick-and-casual to fine dining—had opened with nary a spongy bagel in sight.

“The United experience at Newark Liberty will be a world-class setting with some of the finest dining options anywhere,” says Rick Blatstein, CEO of OTG, which owns and manages more than 200 restaurants and retail stores in 11 airports in North America, including La Guardia and Kennedy. The New York company will own all the Terminal C venues. Prices are expected to range from $8 for a crabcake-meatball snack at Nonna’s Meatball Café to $36 for an entrée of beef tenderloin au poivre at Ducasse’s Saison (which will, however, offer $2 wheat toast at breakfast).

“We view travel as a lifestyle,” Blatstein adds, “and our mission is to treat the airport itself as a destination, more than just a place travelers pass through on their way to somewhere else.”

That does not mean everyone can partake. The restaurants are accessible only to ticket-holding travelers who pass through the usual security gauntlet.

By the time the renovation project ends in mid-2016, travelers passing through Terminal C will have 55 places to choose from. Roughly 24 high-profile chefs—including Jersey native Freitag and New Yorkers Paul Liebrandt (the Elm), Jacques Torres (Jacques Torres Chocolate), Alex Stupak (Empellon Cocina) and Einat Admony (Balaboosta)—will have lent their signature styles and flavors to new restaurants or eateries in the terminal. Some will consult on the creation of more than one place.

“You won’t find chefs’ names inside the restaurants at all,” notes Union Township resident Michael Coury, OTG’s concept chef. “The idea is that the chefs are true consultants. It’s really about their expertise and creating a concept that will last years upon years after they have cultivated an atmosphere.”

Pemoulie confirms this. He says his role in creating the wine bar was “pretty minimal.” He added, “I don’t know how it works with other chefs OTG contracted with, but all that’s going on with me is consulting. And I’m happy with that. This is not my restaurant. It’s not going to have my name on it.”

OTG is not worried that only travelers can indulge in its elevated food. “Last year,” says OTG rep Sean Aziz, “Terminal C saw just over 20 million passengers between arriving and departing. That’ll give us a pretty good audience for these restaurants.”

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