“The paradigm shift in travel, which started with JetBlue—‘To maintain a low-cost carrier, we’re not going to feed you’—changed the airlines’ business model,” says Lionel Ohayon, head of the New York design studio ICrave. As airport food-and-beverage sales have significantly increased over the past two years, the carriers spied an opportunity. Ohayon explains the strategy succinctly: “If we deliver a good eating experience, we can get an extra five dollars from each of the eighteen million travelers passing through each year.”
Ninety million more dollars? Good-bye, Terra Chips. For its new Terminal 5, a Y-shaped structure that opened last October at JFK International Airport, behind Eero Saarinen’s landmark TWA building, JetBlue selected OTG Management, the owner and operator of many airport food-and-beverage outposts, to develop full-service restaurants, a food hall, gourmet markets, and even gateside service. Claiming that when he first visited ICrave—the creators of such crowd-pleasing venues as Las Vegas’s SushiSamba Strip and Sugarcane Lounge—“the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” OTG CEO Rick Blatstein hired the firm to design six of T5’s nine main restaurants as well as four fast-food “Velocity bars” and multiple “re:vive” kiosks (featuring outlets for laptops and touch-screen menus) in the gate areas.
Ohayon sparked to Blatstein’s notion that the project is “an extension of New York,” which suggested “a streetscape experience that felt like part of the fabric of the city.” Aesthetic considerations, however, came second to dealing with traveler anxiety. “What happens in airport restaurants is you immediately feel, This is taking too long,” he says. “How could we alleviate that?”
ICrave suavely interpreted the streetscape concept by riffing on the curvilinear character of Saarinen’s masterwork, knitting to-gether three adjacent restaurants with a single wavelike form. The floor of AeroNuova, a trattoria Ohayon describes as “1960s Italian streamlined,” swoops up to become the walls and ceiling of the tapas bar Piquillo, then glides down again beneath 5iveSteak. The interiors reference New York both subtly and overtly: Piquillo’s vaultlike Moroccan-tile ceiling recalls a subway station; La Vie replicates the retro-Parisian flavor of popular Manhattan bistros; and the tin ceiling and brick walls of Loft Kitchen & Bar suggest a downtown industrial space. The same urban impulse led Ohayon to seat diners facing (or to put tables in) T5’s public areas. “There’s not a more intense sidewalk opportunity in New York,” he says.
The designers addressed the anxiety issue with both obvious solutions (ubiquitous monitors displaying flight information) and more subtle ones. 5iveSteak’s facade, for example—a porous, bonelike screen—flouts the sense of enclosure typical of steak houses. “I wanted to erase those thresholds that make you feel more committed,” Ohayon says. The two circular bars in Deep Blue, he explains, “gave me more counter space, to address the fact that sixty percent of people travel alone. You can have your own space, eat, and move on.” Counter space, in fact, appears in all the restaurants. “Jumping onto a bar stool is different from pulling up to a table, which feels like a much longer experience,” Ohayon says.
Perhaps most effective, given their aesthetic simplicity and gateside location, are the re:vive and Velocity stations. These clean, minimal structures combine modernity’s passions for Web surfing, cell-phone chatter, and comfort cuisine with runway views. And with nonswiveling saddle stools that point firmly toward what’s for sale, that extra five dollars per traveler takes off on schedule too.