Hyde Park Hospitality executive vice president Cortez Carter believes that one day, case studies will be written about Chick-fil-A regarding its growth and branding ability. Students will pore over its legacy in graduate schools across the country. 

His company— a minority-owned business specializing in airport concessions, brand licensing, management staffing, and contracted food & facilities management—is now part of the chicken chain’s storied history. In partnership with Phillips Concessions, Hyde Park recently inked a deal to bring the first Chick-fil-A restaurant to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. 

“The idea that we were able to bring the first Chick-fil-A into [O’Hare International Airport] when there have been none here before probably means as much to us as the brand itself,” Carter says. “Because we recognize that as Chick-fil-A wants its customers to have a great experience, we want the city of Chicago also and for their travelers to have the same experience. It took some work. It meant a lot for us to be able to secure the opportunity to license the brand in the international terminal, which is becoming more of a domestic terminal in many ways. But then to have done so for the benefit and the good of Chicago, that means a lot to us as a Chicago firm.”

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The restaurant is scheduled to open mid-to-late October. Hyde Park—which lives and dies by its schedule, according to Carter—is giving a range and not an exact date because of the city’s robust department of buildings processes, airport checklists, and requirements from the landlord, URW. The company is heading toward a roughly four-week design process, followed by permitting with the City of Chicago. Carter notes that Chicago tends to slow down during the summertime, but the goal is to get through that stage swiftly and reach an 80-90 day construction cycle that would put them in that mid-to-late October range. 

Chick-fil-A is part of a $1.3 billion remodel of O’Hare’s Terminal 5, which added 350,000 square feet, 10 gates, more concessions and passenger amenities, and modernized space. Delta Air Lines moved from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5 in October. 

The journey began when URW issued an RFP for a healthier, fresh brand offering in Terminal 5. Hyde Park wanted Chick-fil-A, but it’s not a licensee of the brand. It made more sense to partner with an existing operator and invite it to the Chicago airport. As a result, the group teamed up with Phillips Concessions, which operates a Chick-fil-A in downtown Miami, in addition to Starbucks and Einstein Bros. Bagels. 

Keeping a pulse on what’s happening in the industry, Hyde Park is aware of which brands are the high-revenue generators. It’s also cognizant of whitespace, like O’Hare not having a Chick-fil-A or Chicago Midway International Airport not having a Starbucks. Hyde Park looked at customer service and satisfaction reports and recognized that if Delta is coming to Terminal 5 and taking a significant portion of gates, customers will start asking, “Where is Chick-fil-A?” 

“Armed with that knowledge and armed with the requirements of the RFP in terms of the kinds of operations they wanted—they didn’t say give me a smoothie operation,” Carter says. “They specifically made it to be something that could work for Chick-fil-A. With that information, we thought that was the best approach to take.”

Hyde Park—founded 12 years ago—operates in 16 U.S. cities and oversees more than 600 employees. Last year, Crain’s Chicago Business named it one of the 50 fastest-growing companies in the city. The organization is led by president and CEO Marc Brooks, who comes from a legacy of food and beverage experience. The company is an Airport Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE), which is part of a federal program offering financial assistance to level social and economic playing fields. 

Carter says Hyde Park and Chick-fil-A are linked by the notion that business from the top down should be fueled by customer service. Having attended Chick-fil-A’s conferences, Carter saw many cultural similarities in terms of commitment to experience and giving back to the community. 

“Obviously Chick-fil-A wants operators who know and understand their business and culture will be represented. And we were fortunate enough to pull that off,” Carter says. 

Hyde Park will staff the new Chick-fil-A with 75 employees, and that’s because the company wants to be a “good corporate citizen,” Carter says. The executive lays out two choices—either be a good concessionaire or allow long lines that irritate everyone walking by or those trying to make their flight on time. Hyde Park arrived at its employment estimate by studying Chick-fil-A at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and several streetside stores. 

Carter says that many workers will give Hyde Park the ability to serve passengers arriving for flights early in the morning and late at night. 

“Now, at the end of the day, if we are overstaffed, you make those corrections,” Carter says. “But today we believe our numbers are spot-on and Chick-fil-A hasn’t pushed back on our assumptions.”

The executive adds that physically managing the facility will be key, including back of house, queuing, and waste. Because Terminal 5 wasn’t designed for restaurants, storage will be yards away, so there will be a process around transporting and ensuring food safety. Matt Evans, Hyde Park’s director of airport operations, will be in charge of determining nuances specific to the brand and location. 

But Hyde Park is familiar with maintaining standards. The company operates in five of the U.S.’s top 15 airports, including Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles International, and Denver International. Some of its concepts include World Bean Coffee, New Belgium Brewing Company, and Artisan Market. It has joined forces with the likes of Aramark, HMSHost, and High Flying Foods.

“When you think about relatively small but growing ACDBE firms, oftentimes they don’t have the luxury or the ability to partner and grow with other major players,” Carter says. “And we’ve been fortunate in that regard. One because our CEO comes from the industry, but two because we prove ourselves to be adequately capitalized and experienced and to grow with some pretty significant players in the country … We have managed to position ourselves in a way to be a great and responsible partner while at the same time growing our firm founded in customer service and integrity.”

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