It’s been just four short years since the company that is now known as SSPAmerica was launched. In that time, its success has been phenomenal. During the last eight months alone, the company has secured a number of significant new slices of business, which will see the opening of 70 new outlets across the country by the end of 2013, with major development projects underway at Phoenix and San Diego (where SSP has recently won significant new contracts), and JFK and Toronto Pearson airports (which are currently undergoing substantial redevelopment).
Since those early days, the US market has changed radically, as has SSP’s position within it, according to Pat Murray, Executive Vice President of SSP America. ‘The airport food and beverage market was very much dominated by one major player and a limited number of US-wide and international brands, and it was hard to tell one airport from the next. Today, thanks to the arrival of SSP as well as a number of other independent operators, it’s much more diverse. The competition is much tougher, and it’s not unusual to see eight or nine operators pitching for each tender.
‘And when the competitive stakes are raised, so are standards,’ continues Murray. ‘There are some really interesting local brands hitting the market. At the upper end of the scale, many locally renowned chefs are making their first foray into the airport market. But even the QSR brands that are stepping into the business tend to be iconic local brands.’ The US diner’s increasingly adventurous tastes have also fostered creativity. ‘People here are now keen to try foods such as sushi or tapas that might not have been seen commonly in the past. In response, we’re seeing the arrival of more interesting foods, served in more interesting environments.’
This doesn’t mean however that the classics of national or international fame won’t still have a vital role to play. ‘SSP’s core brands, such as Upper Crust, Panopolis, Camden food co., Le Grand Comptoir and the recent arrival UrbanCrave, represent the unique personality of SSP America and will remain the mainstays of our brand portfolio.’
Going for growth
The management of SSP America’s burgeoning growth and its geographical spread requires specialist skills, as Murray explains: ‘It’s not a matter of recruiting a whole bunch of people – we need to add the right people across a range of disciplines. This means achieving balance and synergy between staff who understand the way things are done at SSP and local teams who understand the community.’
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of opening the new outlets, the company’s Restaurant Development Process – a highly detailed planning system – keeps Murray and his team on track.
This meticulous planning is also applied to the complex task of integrating brand partners into the business. ‘We work with a huge range of local brands, and each relationship will be different. However, by applying the same processes, whether the brand already has a sophisticated infrastructure of its own or not, we have created a clear set of milestone steps covering everything from how we source our ingredients to how we manage our relationship on a week by week basis. This enables us to deliver the brand to the very highest standard come opening day.’
These processes take time, effort, diplomacy and skill. But Murray firmly believes the end result is worth it. ‘We have one culture, one way of doing things and we all speak the same language. We’re not just trying to open a load of restaurants here – we’re providing the building blocks for the future growth of our company.’
SSP America doesn’t just win contracts – it takes home a considerable cache of awards too. Most recently, the SSP team walked away with two trophies from this year’s Airport Revenue News awards. UrbanCrave was named ‘Best New Food and Beverage Concept’ and Le Grand Comptoir brasserie at Newark Liberty International Airport claimed the title for ‘Best Airport Restaurant Design’. Le Grand Comptoir at Newark then went on to share the prize for ‘Best Airport Wine Bar’ at the 2012 Moodie FAB awards.
In May this year came the exciting news that SSP had been awarded a ten-year $800 million contract at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The new facilities (pictured above and below), will feature 17 unique, Phoenix-area local businesses as well as five national brands that are readily recognisable on the streets of Phoenix. The full line-up is:
• Zinc Bistro
• Lola Coffee
• Tammie Coe Cakes
• Four Peaks Brewing Company
• Delux Burger
• Pei Wei
• Humble Pie
• Wildflower Bread Company
• Panda Express
• Matt’s Big Breakfast
• MidCity Kitchen
• Sweet Republic
• Peet’s Coffee & Tea
• Los Taquitos
• Joe’s Real BBQ
• America’s Taco Shop
• Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
• Culver’s ButterBurgers & Frozen Custard
• Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar