Say goodbye to San Jose Joe’s and The Brit at San Jose’s airport

San Jose Joe’s and The Brit are officially taking off from the Mineta San Jose International Airport – and they won’t be coming back.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to award contracts – or “packages” – to three concessions groups that would bring 14 new restaurants to the airport. The city received 17 proposals from 10 companies during the bidding process and ultimately selected SSP America Inc, Elevate Gourmet Brands-SJC Group and WSE Group Inc.

The contract lasts for 15 years with the opportunity for a 5 year renewal.

“There’s a wide range of concepts, not just the normal burger-style concepts you see at the airport,” said Drake Beaton, the principal property manager at the airport.

Travelers can expect to see new local favorites like Dish n Dash, Manresa, Olla Cocina, Farmer’s Union and Market Beer Company from San Pedro Square. SSP America Inc. will operate 12 restaurants, Elevate Gourmet Brands-SJC Group will operate 1,166 square feet of commercial space and WSE Group Inc will operate 866 square feet of space.

The new restaurants are expected to garner an annual minimum of $3.3 million in guaranteed revenue for the airport, totaling $47.3 million over the life of the contract.

But not everyone was happy with the new choices. John Conway, a partner with The Brit, has been outspoken over a selection process that he says is not designed for local businesses.

“Most of the businesses the council is being asked to approve are owned or controlled by an influential landlord,” Conway said, referring to former Mayor Tom McEnery who owns the property at San Pedro Square.

Airport Director John Aitken, however, said there was no favoritism toward McEnery – adding that the former mayor even inquired about an airport tour and was denied.

“The (proposal process) does not allow us to give preference,” he said.

Conway also said San Jose Joe’s and The Brit were “proven financial generators” at the airport and stuck it out during an economic downturn that saw a sharp decline in airline passengers.

“We’re being shown the door and we didn’t have any data to explain the reasons behind that,” he said. “We’ve been loyal and now we simply ask for some loyalty in return.”

Councilmember Johnny Khamis questioned whether the process favored larger businesses instead of the local brands. He said he’ll be “heartbroken” to see San Jose Joe’s and The Brit – two longtime institutions – close their doors.

“To me it seemed to favor bigger corporations,” he said. “Why didn’t we go out for an individual (proposal) for each space?”

Aitken responded by saying that it wouldn’t be “practical” to award 14 separate contracts as it would be more difficult for airport officials to manage. He also said airline passengers travel six times a year and “they’re always looking for something new,” and that San Jose Joe’s is a “tired” brand now.

Mayor Sam Liccardo chimed in on the claims of a potentially unfair process, acknowledging that the best the city could do was to create a transparent process.

“I hope that going forward if there’s a lesson (to) learn that maybe we engage a bit more with the incumbent so nobody’s feeling like the rug is getting pulled out from under them,” he said.

Councilmember Lan Diep, who called himself a lover of airports, noted that he didn’t feel like it was the council’s role to pick and choose favorite restaurants. In all of his travels, he added that San Jose’s airport is one of the more efficient ones – limiting its use as an airport that you can “hang out and eat.”

“Let’s try to create some gathering space so people can linger for a while,” he said. “The way the airport is set up now, there really is no set aside dining space.”

The new restaurants will begin taking over the spaces in 2020.

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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