Missoula Airport Food & Beverage Proposal Statement

To All Missoulians –

   As many of you may have seen, there have been a few local articles written about our food and beverage proposal at the Missoula International Airport and the upcoming board meeting at the end of the month.  In response, we're extremely happy to state we've received overwhelming support by the Missoula community and throughout Montana.  Thank you to all of you who've come out in favor of local business and keeping our local money in Missoula!  At the same time, some of the news information wasn't able to properly explain certain details, so we have decided to send out this announcement, hoping to explain in clearer terms what’s going on and why.

   First of all, we are all native Montanans and local Missoulians, with every ounce of our professional careers dedicated to Missoula.  Our ownership group (comprised of Scott Billadeau, Chad Morgan and Skyla Sisco) originally started Liquid Planet in 2003. We then added the Liquid Planet Grille concept in 2014, and over the past few years developed Pangea Restaurant Group – which is a new 2 story bar and restaurant concept slated to open in downtown Missoula a few weeks from now.  We love living here and we’ve purposely chosen to raise our families and develop our businesses here. 

  Over the last 15 years, we’ve enjoyed growing with the Missoula airport and we’ve received thousands of rave reviews for both our products and service.  We’ve also been highly regarded by airport staff, management, and leadership.  We have high regard for them as well.  In fact, we feel that we have a great relationship with them and we understand that they have processes they must follow as a federally funded public entity. 

  Due to the timing of the construction and planned opening of a new $100M Missoula airport, the contract for food and beverage restaurant operations came up for 'bid' in which we submitted a proposal with a very strong focus on local representation of food, pastries, beer, wine, coffee, and liquor.  Publicly over the last number of days, we've received various questions from Missoulians wondering how this process actually works.  Unlike a 'bid' process, where the lowest or highest bid automatically wins, this contract started with proposals and then a single presentation by the finalists.  We put a great deal of creative time and effort into our proposal showcasing our ideas for the new food and beverage operations at the airport, how we would use a vast array of local businesses – not just a few select brands.  The reason for that is because we genuinely want to celebrate all that Missoula has to offer, as the airport is naturally the first and last taste of our Missoula community. 

We were also told that we submitted the best overall proposal.  

Then the presentation process and federally mandated scoring system was applied.

  We're proud to say that we still landed neck and neck as one of the top two candidates based on our presentation and interview with the Food and Beverage Concessionaire committee, who then makes a recommendation to the board using strict guidelines established by the FAA.  According to airport management, the decision was very close between us and a company based in New Jersey called Faber; a much larger company that specifically and competently operates food and beverage concessions in a number of regional airports around the country.  Faber offered to license two Missoula brands along with a Bozeman-based sandwich company, so the airport food and beverage operations would appear to be run locally by local companies.  Realistically however, the New Jersey company would be operating it (collecting all revenue and profits), only using local names in order to appear local.  Besides airport rent, this means all revenue and profit would leave the state, and only the portions that paid some of the local employees, a small portion of local suppliers (if they use them) and two small licensing fees would come back into our community.  With the Faber licensing deal one local brewery would be on tap in the airport - our proposal had 16 local breweries from Frenchtown to Hamilton on tap.     

  As the federally mandated process unfolded, the seasoned New Jersey company, who has gone through this process in multiple airports, ultimately attained a higher score.  This recommendation now goes to the Airport Board for a final vote.  Given Faber’s experience with these federal bids, they knew exactly what would score them points – in essence, knowing the answers before the test.  Not only were they scored higher for being a large corporation with a higher net worth (such as being able to weather an economic downturn), but also had the inside track on what to emphasize in the proposal for maximum points (such as employee training and claiming lower-priced menu items).  So, given the fact that we came that close without knowing the “answers in advance” gives us more confidence than ever that we are fully capable of providing better experiences at a genuinely local level.  As we termed our presentation: Local People, Providing a Local Experience, at a World-Class Level. 

Further, we’re not interested in being in other airports.  We only want to be in OUR airport!

  Due to the FAA regulations, the committee was not permitted to return to us to ask further questions, clarify concerns, or have us expand on specific aspects of our proposal.  We respect the fact that they followed the mandated process and we’re sure they properly followed regulations.  But should following out-of-state regulations and a mandated process from Washington D.C. determine who gets to serve our local community?

  This 20-year contract for food and beverage concessions at the airport includes free usage of one of our Montana liquor licenses and millions in revenue over time that we believe should stay in Missoula, Montana and not go to New Jersey.  Only the Missoula Airport Board of Commissioners can take a larger perspective and place this decision in the proper context, as the airport is not an island in the basin of glacial lake Missoula, but an integral part of the entire community.  Please help us fight for Missoula, our Airport, and for local business.  Help us convince the Airport Board (which is entirely comprised of Missoulians) to vote for ALL of Missoula, to vote for keeping our local dollars in Missoula.  Let’s show them the true power of community!

   We hope you will consider sharing this post, supporting our cause in any way you can (including signing this online petition) – making some calls, writing some letters, showing up at the Airport meeting (March 31st at 1:30pm in the airport conference room)....whatever you can do is greatly appreciated! 

Thank you for supporting genuinely local business!! 

  • Liquid Planet