The minds behind Casualfood talk to Emily Lewis about the turbulence involved in airport catering, as well as giving insight into their latest venture
Fifteen years ago, Casualfood’s Stefan Weber and Michael Weigel spotted a gap in airport foodservice: there was little choice in terms of food once past security.
“This resulted in an idea,” says Weber. “We wanted to fill this gap, so we launched a mobile pretzel stand at Frankfurt airport.”
That was back in 2005, and since then their idea has come to fruition thanks to the truism: travelling, like almost everything, is a lot more enjoyable with food.
Casualfood’s portfolio has grown expansively since that first venture. Now with thirteen brands under their belt, including convenience store Quicker’s and healthy snack bar Natural,Weber and Weigh have become experts in travel catering. Casualfood have since capitalised on the success of their Düsseldorf deli Goodman & Filippo, opening a second outlet in Cologne Bonn this summer.
The airport experience
Travelling and the way we view travelling has shifted significantly over the years. In her recently translated novel Flights, Polish author Olga Tokarczuk muses on this transition of airports from “mere transport hubs” into “our regular habit”. Tokarczuk’s description is apt; as our aviation centres become increasingly commercialised, they have developed into self-sufficient mini-states.
Why is this the case? Well, the past two decades or so have seen tightening security measures resulting in travellers spending longer periods of time in airports. Compounding this factor is the rise of budget airlines: with no free meal on-board the aircraft, holidaymakers are opting to buy food before take-off.
While more time in airports correlates with increased footfall for airport outlets, these restrictions also place limitations on what kitchen equipment is permitted after security.
Casualfood is well rehearsed in what you can and can’t do on the other side of passport control, and have turned the restrictions into a chance to be inventive. “We enjoy working with innovative cooking techniques, such as sous vide,” explains Weber. “This enables us to achieve exceptionally high-quality results.”
Located before security, the Cologne Bonn addition to the Casualfood family marks a departure from the usual challenges. “It’s our first restaurant with a fully equipped kitchen – so the conditions are excellent here…the fully equipped kitchen enables us to offer a much wider range.”
The location of Goodman & Filippo also entails catering for a new audience. “It is not only available to passengers and airport staff – it expands our target group to anyone who fancies some Italo-American cuisine.”
For Weber, the key to success in airport foodservice is customisation. Advocating modular and flexible brand identities, Weber says that a “multi-brand strategy” is one of Casualfood’s “great strengths.” “We can fill any space, large or small, because many of our food-service concepts are modular.”
Translating these concepts into reality is a strong point of Casualfood’s skillset. “When it comes to realisation, our location requirements are minimal, which means we can even utilise spaces that conventional food and beverage providers are unable to use because of the more challenging conditions at transport hubs,” explains Weber.
Despite airport constraints, their Cologne deli occupies an area of 200 square metres. With seating for 120 people, the deli-cum-restaurant is one of Casualfood’s largest outlets. Anticipating high levels of business from their wider audience, Weber and Weiger have ensured that Dusseldorf’s roomy younger sister allows both take-out and eat-in capabilities.
International taste buds
Catering to global tastes is yet another challenge for airport-based foodservice operators compared to their high street counterparts.
“Goodman & Filippo unites two very popular national cuisines,” says Weber. “The range offers a mixture of Italian and high-quality American food – both cuisines are right on trend at the moment and appeal to an international group.”
And when it comes to international taste buds and jetsetter needs, none pleases more than pizza. “Pizza is perfect for high-footfall catering because it can be prepared very quickly,” says Weber.
Far from letting speed dictate quality, the Goodman & Filippo outlet will be introducing an Umberto Napolitana pizza recipe, which involves the dough resting for a full 24 hours before cooking. Weber explains, “the dough is prepared and left to rest for 24 hours in a special proving drawer in the kitchen, which makes it straightforward in terms of preparation.”
The consultant’s view: Frank Wagner, president of FCSI Germany-Austria gives his perspective on airport foodservice
The industry is changing with the way people are travelling. They want to work, chat, and meet new people. For this they want to have good and simple food and drinks in every place they are travelling through.
In my opinion, an airport foodservice provider needs to be much more flexible in concept. People have very different tastes, but not much choice in airports. If you want travellers to spend their money, give them choices in your restaurant.
The diner concept is very popular at the moment. You can find it in all bigger airports in Germany in both the landside and airside areas. This concept gives all food lovers a choice of what they like most, and allows them to sit together and eat different food and have a good time. Casual dining is about that.
Casualfood’s Goodman & Filippo is now open in terminal one, landside departures of Cologne Bonn Airport