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Local restaurants make headway in airports, a reflection of changing consumer tastes

Increasingly, travelers are able to grab a bite of the best fare a destination has to offer without setting foot out of the airport.

From Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International to Los Angeles International, a growing number of airports are opening outposts of popular local restaurants, unique stands that serve regional cuisine, and menus crafted by prominent local chefs.

"The airport is really the doorstep of the community,'' says Rick Blatstein, CEO of OTG, which develops, owns and operates restaurants in 11 airports. "And we think it's important to connect with the local tastes, flavors ... really the whole local vibe.''

Michael Lomonaco, of Manhattan's Porter House restaurant, is the consulting chef at the Prime Tavern steakhouse in LaGuardia Airport's Terminal D. Passengers passing through Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport can get a taste of southern barbecue at Mustard Seed, which opened in February and smokes its own meat inside its airport location.

Fliers can have breakfast all day long at Boise Airport's Big City Coffee, an outpost of a popular local restaurant, or regional fare and local craft beers at Bardenay, another Idaho eatery with an airport outlet.

And Los Angeles' famous Farmers Market has opened a second location in LAX's Terminal 5, incorporating local ingredients into airport bites.

The trend of bringing local tastes into airports is largely in response to demand by millennial travelers and other fliers for fresh food and unique dining experiences, even while they're on the go.

"This industry is evolving ... with the changing public palate,'' says Kevin Kelly, president of the travel hospitality business for Delaware North, which manages over 300 eateries and stores at more than 30 airports and travel portals around the world.

In November, Delaware North helped introduce the popular Casavana Restaurant to Fort Lauderdale's airport, where it now has two locations.

It "is a reflection of the community,'' Kelly says. "It's Cuban cuisine. We've got croquettes, empanadas, and it's been very well received. There are still national chains that could fill that need, but it seems that sense of community resonates strongly with the airport authorities and the traveling market.''

Lazaro Garcia, Casavana's president, says that besides catering to traveling locals and airport employees already familiar with his restaurants, the airport locations expose Casavana's food and brand to throngs of tourists.

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