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First phase of St. John’s International Airport terminal building expansion offers bevy of new dining and retail options to travellers

Precisely 10 years and one day after opening the first Yellowbelly Brewery and Public House in downtown St. John’s, owners Craig Flynn and Brenda O’Reilly will launch the second location for their popular local brand.

You won’t find the new Yellowbelly on Kenmount Road or Stavanger Drive, but rather inside the St. John’s International Airport.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be opening a Yellowbelly Brewery in the airport 10 years later, that's for sure,” says Flynn. “To be part of it is really exciting.”

Yellowbelly is one a handful of new concessions available in the expanded departure lounge that was major component in Phase 1 of the airport’s eastern expansion project, opening to the public Thursday.

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When the airport authority, prompted by a survey of its passengers and airport employees, decided to move away from the master concessionaire program in favour of an independent franchisee model more commonly found throughout other Canadian airports, it wanted to attract a mixture of local and national brands. In particular, it wanted the full-service restaurant to be a local entity.

“It gave us a feeling that we could do something special up at the airport,” says Flynn. “It was that whole direction that they were going which made us interested as opposed to just looking for someone to provide food and beverage.”

Joining Yellowbelly is another local brand in Brent Smith and Christina Dove’s Newfoundland Chocolate Company, also celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018.

“It's our opportunity to be ambassadors for this province that we're so proud of and to interact and tell the story of Newfoundland and Labrador and share our proud story of making the best chocolate in Canada right here on the East Coast of Canada,” Smith told the Telegram.

“We could not be happier and prouder to be not only the chocolate shop and main gift shop here at the airport, but the main coffee shop at the airport, particularly around the specialty coffees.”

For the first four months of its tenure inside the departures lounge, the Newfoundland Chocolate Company will be the only grab-and-go coffee option past security.

With the pre-boarding screening area moving from its current home on the second floor to the first floor Thursday — making it four times its current size, and with room to grow — the old screening area will be converted into even more concession space.

“That's where one of our two full-menu Tim Hortons outlets is going to go, likely opened this fall in October or November,” explains airport authority CEO Keith Collins.

The second will be on the first floor in the former home of Destinations, which, like On The Fly and Coyote Jack’s, is no more. While that Tim Hortons is being constructed, the Compass Group has agreed to continue operating the small Timmy’s in the current food court.

“We're very fortunate that way,” Smith says of cornering the post-security coffee market for a time, doing so with products from Corner Brook-based Brewed Awakening. “We know the demand for coffee in an airport is obviously extreme and we're stoked and ready to go.”

Instead of just the chocolaterie model, the Newfoundland Chocolate Company operation will also employ a café model like at the chain’s Signal Hill visitor centre location, serving up a selection of grab-and-go breakfast, lunch and dinner fare.

Other concessions in the departures lounge include a Booster Juice and three Relay branded stores operated by Paradies Lagardère: a standalone Relay, another called Breakwater Place, and the duty-free shop rebranded as George Street Duty Free.

On the first floor, the existing relay will be rebranded as Jellybean Harbour.

“National company, but recognizing the importance of local connection,” says Collins.

Relay isn’t the only returning tenant. The Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Shop, one of the first local brands introduced to the airport over a decade ago, will move from a kiosk to a more permanent home down the hall.

“We were the standalone local offer in the old section, so this is a really nice extension of that and I think it does make St. John’s International Airport unique because most airports that you go into it's a very generic product and this will definitely give the visitors a really unique experience,” says executive director Andrea MacDonald.

“Most of our locations are seasonal, so this is a great opportunity for us to employ local people and the reward is threefold, really. Not only are we employing people, but we're selling local work, so local crafts people are able to sell their wares to us, which in turn we can sell to passengers, and then the proceeds from the Heritage Shops go to support projects for the Historic Sites Association.”

There’s no denying the crown jewel of the revamped concessions program is Yellowbelly — the first full-service restaurant after security in the airport’s history — and Flynn and O’Reilly have delivered an environment that’s in keeping with the esthetic of their original location. They even worked with a number of contractors from the first Yellowbelly, and the rear wall of the restaurant was designed to look like the exterior wall on the corner of George and Water.

“We wanted it to be a place where people felt comfortable coming to the airport early and starting their vacation here, having a bite and a few drinks before they got on the plane, as opposed to just a spot where you stop and refuel because you're hungry,” Flynn says, noting the menu will mirror that of the downtown location, but with a large selection of breakfast items.

Collins says whether it’s to a native of the province or a visitor, the airport is now ready to deliver a stronger all-around airport experience.

“We're the first and last impressions for a lot of the people here in Newfoundland because we handle more than 70 per cent of the air traffic to the province, so we really wanted to build something that everyone would enjoy and that our community would feel proud of. We like what we've done and we hope people, when they use the new pre-board screening and new departure lounge, that they'll say, 'Wow. I like this. I'm proud of this,’” says Collins.

“This is our busy time of year … so we're thrilled to open the new expanded area in time for our peak season, on time and on budget. We're so proud of that.”

Twitter: kennoliver79

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