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Business is brisk at Duluth International Airport’s revamped bar, concessions area

The Arrowhead Tap House opened Feb. 7 in remodeled space in the boarding concourse past security at the Duluth International Airport. It features foods prepared on site, a bar, and gift and travel items. (Bob King / / 5
The new Arrowhead Tap House at the Duluth International Airport is proving popular with travelers before boarding their flights. It offers a full menu, a full bar and a growing selection of merchandise for travelers. (Bob King / 2 / 5
Chandler Cole of Duluth helps a customer with a purchase at the Arrowhead Tap House on Tuesday morning. (Bob King / / 5
Orange blossom muffins are among the pastries baked fresh each morning at Arrowhead Tap House. (Bob King / / 5
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More passengers flying out of the Duluth International Airport these days are first stopping for a burger, fresh pastry or a local craft beer.

They’re buying magazines, clothing, tote bags and souvenirs since the Arrowhead Tap House

replaced the Coffee Cabin/Afterburner in the boarding concourse beyond security.

And that’s creating more hustle and bustle before flights.

Under new management, the airport’s revamped bar and expanded concessions including local products have driven up sales 25 percent in its first five months, according to the Duluth Airport Authority.

“Customers have been incredibly receptive to it,” said Natalie Peterson, the airport’s communications and marketing director.  “It’s incredibly busy, and the numbers are showing it.”

From Feb. 7, when Oakwells LLC opened the Arrowhead Tap House, through June, airport concessions yielded $64,000 more in sales than the same period in 2013. That’s resulted in an $11,000 boost in rent paid to the airport. With about $275,500 in total sales during its first five months, the Arrowhead Tap House is on track to reach $600,000 in gross sales this year, Michael Reilly, Oakwells’ president, told the Duluth Airport Authority this month. That exceeds last year’s total by nearly $155,000, airport numbers show.

Peterson credits the success to teamwork between the airport authority and the Tap House. Its owner, Oakwells, had the winning bid for the airport food and beverage service out of three companies that submitted proposals. The previous vendor didn’t submit a proposal, she said.

Based in Dallas, Ga., Oakwells owns and operates numerous specialty travel retail stores and coffee shops around the country and has a similar operation at the Grand Forks, N.D., airport.

First, a makeover

The change in management of the Duluth airport food and beverage service kicked off with renovations of the concessions area to accommodate more offerings and to create an inviting atmosphere and comfortable space.

“It looks very different from what it looked like before,” said Tom Walchuk, Tap House manager. “People tell me they like the way it looks. It’s cleaner, it’s nicer.”

The updated menu and expanded concessions are proving to be popular.

“It’s a much larger menu,” Peterson explained. “The merchandise side is 90 percent more, including travel amenities — push carts, plug-ins, bags, aspirin — all the things you see in a bigger airport that are nice to have when traveling, which we never had before.”

Oakwells also has opened Grab n’ Go, a concessions kiosk on the terminal’s second floor public area. It offers snacks, beverages, magazines, travel and gift items. At the kiosk, patrons also can order food from the concourse-side restaurant.

With a head chef on site, the Arrowhead Tap House’s enhanced menu ranges from homemade soup and salads to chicken quesadillas and barbecue pulled pork sandwiches. Weekly specials have included chicken pesto wraps.

“They added a grill and a deep fryer,” Peterson said. “It gives more options for a full menu.”

Burgers and fries ($8.95 to $9.75), chicken strips ($9.50) and their egg salad sandwiches ($7.90) are among the most popular selections, officials say.

Scones, muffins and cinnamon rolls are baked fresh at the Tap House each morning.

“You can smell the baked goods when we’re baking,” Walchuk said. “That’s the enticement.”

There are healthy options, like 100 percent juices, hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free biscotti. There are omelets and other breakfast offerings and specialty coffee drinks.

“We do it all in this teeny, tiny space behind a partition,” Walchuk said. “We just have a good crew.”

According to Oakwells, they’ve had nearly 35,600 customers in their first five months, with the average sale $7.74.  

“We brought more to the situation and are able to do more,” Walchuk said. “So we’re attracting a greater variety of travelers.”

More merchandise coming

Meanwhile, the full bar’s offerings have expanded to include craft beers made in Duluth and the Twin Cities. They include Bent Paddle, Lake Superior Brewing Co. and Surly brews on tap for $6 to $7 a glass.

“They didn’t have that before,” Walchuk said of the previous airport bar. “They didn’t do craft beer.”

The Tap House is open from 30 minutes before the first scheduled departure of the day until the last scheduled departure of the day. That’s generally from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Patrons enrolled in the airport’s Customer Rewards Program earn a point for every dollar spent at the Arrowhead Tap House and Grab n’ Go, Peterson noted.

Already the Arrowhead Tap House can use more space as it builds its merchandise selection.

“We’re in the process of another renovation, adding more space so we can offer more apparel items,” Walchuk said.

At the Duluth Airport Authority meeting this month, board president Michael Lundstrom complimented Reilly, who was representing Oakwells, on the Tap House’s performance.

“Your operation has been a breath of fresh air,” Lundstrom said.

Peterson later echoed similar thoughts.

“From a customer service perspective, we’re just really thrilled to have them,” she said.