Pappas restaurant left Hobby Airport 1 year ago. here’s why

Pappas Bar-BQ restaurant had a “Thank you Houston” sign at Hobby Airport last year.  In 2023, the Houston City Council voted to hand over the reins of Hobby's food and beverage scene to new companies.

Pappas Bar-BQ restaurant had a “Thank you Houston” sign at Hobby Airport last year. In 2023, the Houston City Council voted to hand over the reins of Hobby’s food and beverage scene to new companies.

Yi-Chin Lee/Staff Photographer

Travelers who take flights to or from Hobby Airport have likely noticed that their dining options have changed over the past year.

The Houston City Council awarded concession contracts in 2023 to new companies, removing 4 Families of Houston, a group led by Pappas Restaurants, after 20 years of business there.

The new agreements follow a months-long feud between Pappas Restaurants and former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration over the contracting process — and the fairness issues surrounding it.

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Here’s what you need to know about what happened and where the process stands.

AIRPORT DEBATE: Pappas’ feud at Hobby Airport with Houston City Hall will last another week. Here are the key issues

When did Pappas leave?

City Hall awarded the new contracts in early 2023 and Pappas left the airport on May 11 of that year.

What food options are there now?

The new lineup includes Pink’s Pizza, The Spot and Velvet Taco, as well as several leftovers including Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s. Other restaurants, like The Rustic, are under construction. The new operators are running a few temporary restaurants while they build more permanent concepts.

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Visitors will no longer find Pappadeaux’s, Pappas Bar-BQ and Pappasito’s Cantina.

Why did the new companies win?

As the City Council evaluated the disputed contracts, city officials said the new operators won primarily because they offered the city a higher share of revenue than the group led by Pappas.

Airport officials told the board last month that the bid was largely confirmed, based on figures from the first year of the contract. The city collected about $11.3 million in revenue from operators between June 2023 and April 2024, up from $8.7 million the previous year.

How did Pappas officials react to the contract process?

Pappas officials denounced the unusually long and tedious process used by the city, saying it was flawed and “full of cancellations, changing requirements, short preparation periods and months-long gaps with no communication “.

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The city issued three separate requests for proposals over four years and asked companies for the best final bids a total of four times during that period. One of the companies that won the contract, Areas, was not among the top performers in previous rounds.

Turner responded by accusing Pappas of waging a “smear campaign.” The former mayor had friends on both sides of the contracting process but said he had no role in deciding the winners.

TURNER’S TIES: Turner has close ties to people on both sides of the $470 million Hobby Airport deal

The restaurant group waged a vigorous campaign to get the city council to change the outcome, hiring lobbyists at City Hall, changing the marquees of its restaurants and arguing that the new group would not be able to match its sales figures.

Nonetheless, the council ultimately approved the new contract by a vote of 11 to 6, awarding Areas USA, part of a Spanish dealership conglomerate, a 10-year, $470 million contract.

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Where is the ongoing legal battle?

Pappas Restaurants ultimately sued the city, alleging it violated its own code and state law in awarding the contract. In the suit, the company cited a call from a former mayoral aide to CEO Chris Pappas during the “blackout” period, the period in which city officials are not allowed to speak about the agreement to potential entrepreneurs.

That lawsuit has been put on hold while city lawyers argue that Houston should be shielded from the appeals court suit.