Vendor bender

Two global companies earn wings to operate at Sac’s new airport terminal as many locals are grounded

The bidding process behind the recently announced concession contracts for the new Sacramento International Airport terminal suggests a big-business-driven food fight. At stake is exposure to millions of customers, a 10-year agreement and big bucks.

But while the Sacramento County Airport System staff encouraged local businesses to submit applications—in some cases spending thousands of dollars to apply—the winners in the process were two global companies and the Sacramentans aligned with them.

Industry heavies HMSHost and SSP America will run most of the concessions at the new terminal, and locals are to report to them. “But local business and their staff will be involved in such things as hiring a chef and choosing the menu,” explained airport spokeswoman Cheryl Marcell.

Airport officials said the SSP package stood apart from other bids. In that partnership, local restaurant owners Griselda Barajas, Bobbin Mulvaney and Mason Wong will each own a 10 percent stake in the venture with SSP.

The county praised the HMS proposal for its commitment to use locally sourced products and its licensing agreements with locals such as Esquire Grill and Burgers and Brew. They also cited Starbucks as a strength, despite applications from locally owned coffeehouses, such as Old Soul Co.

But national businesses mostly won out, such as Famous Famiglia pizza, which partners with HMSHost on the East Coast and earned the Italian food concessions bid in Sacramento.

In addition to these transactions, there are other, more oblique ties between HMS, SSP, the airport system and other bidders.

HMSHost, for example, contributed this year to the election campaigns of Sacramento County Supervisors Roger Dickinson, Jimmie Yee and candidate Phil Serna.

Meanwhile, Leigh Fisher Associates, part of Jacobs Consultancy, helped draft the airport’s call for bids and is part of the new terminal’s design team. But Jacobs Consultancy has advised SSP as well.

SSP has faced controversy before. In August, HMSHost alleged conflict of interests over concessions awarded to SSP at Los Angeles International Airport.

Sacramento International Airport already has its own concession-based lawsuit: Former vendor Ann Hill has sued alleging discrimination based on race. The airport system has disputed this and says the ouster was based on revenues at her business. That business, Java City, was replaced by San Francisco-based wine bar Vino Volo, which also earned a slot at the new Terminal B.

Given all this, one independent business-owner applicant, Greg Brida of Luigi’s Slice in Midtown, says being turned down is perhaps a mixed blessing. His pizza restaurant has been run by his family in Sacramento for 50 years, but a panel of evaluators gave him low marks for experience.

“We are disappointed because we were encouraged to apply and invested time and resources,” Brida said, while adding his application cost about $7,000. “We tried to go independently because we would have only gotten 4 to 6 percent of the revenue otherwise. But the process and evaluations were so confusing, so maybe for now it is a good thing.