By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — About two years after the Airport Grille closed its doors, the restaurant — completely renovated and substantially expanded — is set to reopen Thursday under new ownership.
“It took longer than we thought it would, and it took more money,” said William Whelan, one of the five partners behind the restaurant.
But, he said: “I have no regrets. There’s nothing I wish we had done, or nothing I wish we had done differently. … It just kind of came out cool.”
In addition to Whelan, the partners behind the restaurant are: William Whelan Sr., Tony Cruz and Paul Cruz — also a father-son pair — and Oliveirio Ferreira.
The elder Whelan has restaurant experience through his involvement with Not Your Average Joe’s in Dartmouth, and Ferreira owns and operates Cafe Mimo in the North End.
When the partners were selected to run the restaurant by the Airport Commission in October 2008, they did not have a specific plan for the space, Whelan said, just a vision of what they wanted the restaurant to be.
The first thing they needed to do to achieve their vision — and to make the economics of the restaurant work — was to make the restaurant bigger, according to Whelan.
The partners more than doubled the number of seats from about 45 to more than 90 by expanding into the airport’s lobby. They also built a more permanent outside patio that can accommodate about 33 people — replacing the canvas covering with a hard roof, adding plastic sides that can be rolled down in inclement weather, and building a fireplace in one corner.
The original restaurant was gutted “right down to steel and concrete,” and built back from the ground up with attention paid to the smallest details, according to Whelan.
Intricate and sophisticated details do abound in the new space, from a rail of ice running the length of the bar on which people can place drinks to keep them cold to small black magnets etched with the restaurant’s logo that will pin customers’ bills in place on small silver platters.
The partners originally estimated they would invest about $200,000 in capital improvements. Although Whelan and the younger Cruz declined to state exactly how much they spent on the construction project, the final figure was “substantially” above their original estimate, Whelan said.
But, Cruz said, “to do it right you had to spend the money.”
Airport manager Ed DeWitt said the new Airport Grille is a great example of a public-private partnership.
“I think we worked (toward) a common end of coming up with a facility that’s good for the community, good for the airport and good for everyone, really,” he said. “We’re really excited.”
During the Airport Commission’s searching for a new tenant last summer, commission members said the airport restaurant served two key purposes: catering to passengers and people who work at the airport; serving as an attraction to draw people to the airport, especially people who fly private planes.
The new owners will pay the city about $177,856 in rent over the first five years of their lease; the lease has two extension options, both for five years.
The restaurant’s kitchen will be run by chef Fernando Dovale, who was the head chef at and a partner in the old Airport Grille.
According to Dovale, the restaurant’s menu will be influenced by Mediterranean and Italian cuisines and will feature local seafood.
Whelan and Cruz said the partners were committed to maintaining a “value price” for a casual upscale restaurant: Lunch entrees will range from $8 to $12; dinner entrees will range from $14 to $25.
For the restaurant to succeed, it will have to be a destination that people seek out, Whelan said.
“We’re a little off the beaten path,” he said.
However, the owners have yet to develop a marketing plan, according to Whelan, who said the first priority was getting the restaurant open.
A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and the restaurant will open officially for dinner on Thursday.
The restaurant will serve only dinner this Thursday through Sunday, but starting Monday it will be open for lunch and dinner every day, according to Cruz.
The partners are also planning to start serving Sunday champagne brunch in November, they said.
October 07, 2009
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091007/NEWS/910070326
By Charis Anderson