As you pass through the airport looking for your gate or walk through an arena and look for your seat, travelers and ticket holder will pass numerous concessions stands. Each of them offers menu fare from well-known brands.
Very rarely does that consumer ever give any thought to how each of those brands were selected for a given space. Earl Enterprises, the company behind restaurant concepts like Planet Hollywood, Earl of Sandwich, Bravo Italian Kitchen and more have just added a new member to their team whose expertise is to create a winning mix of concepts for non-traditional venues from airports to stadiums. Valentina Ellison has joined Earl Enterprises as their new Chief Development Officer, Nontraditional.
Ellison has over 15 years of experience working for companies like Areas and REEF. She brings a deep book of relationships with a variety of foodservice brand operators in helping them grow in nontraditional spaces such as sports arenas, travel plazas and airports. “For most of my career I worked with Areas USA, the third largest airport concessionary in the world based out of Barcelona, Spain. Fast forward over a decade later, I worked for REEF where we covered 12 airports, 10 travel plazas and nearly $500 million worth of revenue. My whole career has been working with clients to negotiated contracts in nontraditional spaces” Ellison said.
When looking to add a new restaurant or kiosk to a new space like an airport, one needs to plan far ahead and Valentina Ellison has that vision.
“The way the airport contracting process begins by starting the bidding process. These contracts are 8-10 years long, so it’s crucial to have good relationships and the trust of venue operators and identify the concepts they want,” Ellison explained.
“For a process this in depth, the factors to consider are location, clientele and budget,” the veteran foodservice executive continued. “The consumers and their desires will differ from operator to operator. You have to consider things like age groups, travel time, employees and more to narrow down a concept.”
“The process begins with identifying the brands, relationships, and minority partners,” Ellison said. “The next step is to create renderings for kitchen layouts, and match that with potential menus. After that you must submit a proposal and present your concept. Then if you are successful, the construction and design teams take over and begin fabricating the concessions.”
“A real win for us is when we can create a single commissary kitchen to support multiple concession outlets. Future success for us lies in creating one kitchen space for all our brands to work from. With my former experience and what Robert Earl has brought from the virtual dining space, we will be able to execute our vision,” Ellison detailed.
The consumer base over the past few years has changed and with that so have the considerations when Ellison and her team create their proposals. ‘The Pre-pandemic tourist was, much more business oriented but with the younger generations have entered the space and forced changes in the type of concepts that will succeed, Ellison added. “Before the focus was on celebrity chefs, local cuisines and food that shared a sense of place. The younger travelers have different values than their predecessors” Ellison said. “There is more emphasis on longevity of brands, quality of food versus price, and reliability.”
So, with these concerns of safety, quality and accessibility Ellison is taking her expertise and expanding the brands at Earl Enterprises to meet the needs of a new generation. Plans to create extensions of Earl Enterprises brands will also play a role in the new market.
“We are constantly finding new ways to present our brands to fit the needs of our consumers. For example, Brio has reimagined its format for airports and other settings called Brio Vino. It’s a smaller scale, attractive restaurant with smaller portions perfect for traveling. We are doing the same thing with Bucca de Beppo, by adjusting the portions and expanding ‘to go’ options we now have a new extension known as Bucca Express,” Ellison said.
The environment to introduce these brands in new spaces isn’t limited to travel areas either. As she looks to the future, Ellison is creating momentum towards moving into new spaces. “While the airports are our first priority, we are also interested in pursuing colleges and universities. We are working with different operators in stadiums, large box-retailers, military bases and so on,” she concluded.
With Ellison steering the vision, the development of restaurant brands at Earl Enterprises is focused on reaching new audiences with dynamic new concepts. The goal is to bring value to the world’s consumer from airports to arenas and stadiums and even the highways travel plaza. For Valentina Ellison nothing less than quality and reliability will make the grade.
To learn more about Earl Enterprises, visit their website