Transforming a 50-year-old, 50,000-square-foot full-service restaurant into a food hall is neither cheap nor easy. But The Proud Bird’s owner, John Tallichet—whose father built and opened the restaurant in 1967—is hopeful its modern remake will appeal to the evolving Los Angeles community surrounding the restaurant and preserve its legacy for years to come.
“This was a test for us to rethink how we operate,” says Tallichet, president and CEO of Specialty Restaurants Corporation, The Proud Bird’s parent company. Specialty Restaurants spent 16 months and more than $10.5 million on the renovation before reopening as a six-stall “food bazaar” and event space in June.
Proud Bird diners receive a “boarding pass” at the entrance, and a “credit card” that keeps track of their food and allows them to pay before dining. The restaurant is also testing systems that let diners pay when they order or after they eat.
The changing population around The Proud Bird necessitated its revamp. The restaurant sits just off the runways at Los Angeles International Airport, accessible only from outside the airport, and stands at the junction of several major highways, so it attracts customers from surrounding areas. Tech companies have blossomed around LAX of late, leading to a new, younger customer base that did not seek out full-service dining like the previous generation, owners say. About 70% of the concept’s current diners never visited when it was a full-service concept, says Michael Brennan, SRC’s vice president.
As The Proud Bird leases land from the airport, the restaurant must pay LAX’s “super living wage” of $17.26 per hour (minimum wage plus health care). “It’s a pretty challenging [hiring] market, but when you offer $17.26 an hour, you get on peoples’ radar,” says Tallichet.
The aviation-themed decor, with multiple airplanes and a hangar-like feel, remains—as does much of the back kitchen, now used solely for banquets.
Concept: The Proud Bird
Location: Los Angeles
Footprint: 50,000 square feet
Seating: About 2,100
Key features: Six-concept food hall (with room for two more stalls), full bar, banquet rooms for groups from 25 people to 1,200, separate banquet kitchen