After a series of closed-door trials last week, Jamie Oliver at Gatwick opened to the public on Sunday morning with the capacity to serve 1,000 covers a day in the breakfast service alone.
The 6,000 sq ft restaurant, first announced in February, will incorporate a Jamie's Italian, a bar version of the Union Jacks concept and a full-scale bakery which will produce bread, cakes and pizza bases from scratch and serve as a 'grab and go' station.
"I think we have ended up with a really groundbreaking offering in terms of airports and the way that people eat in them," Jules Hunt, executive chef director for Jamie Oliver, told BigHospitality at an exclusive preview of the new airport eatery.
"We have restaurants in Manchester, Covent Garden and Australia that take 6,000 covers a week but this will be by far the biggest number of covers that we have ever done in a Jamie Oliver restaurant."
Hunt revealed the team had still not recruited all the staff that would be needed to work in the restaurant when it eventually operates at full capacity. Nearly 70-80 chefs and another 80 staff will be employed at Jamie Oliver at Gatwick, many of whom will come from the local area.
In the meantime staff from other parts of Oliver's empire and a crew of 30 support workers will assist in the day-to-day operations.
However according to Hunt the initial problems in recruiting employees to work in an airport, with the subsequent identification and security issues, were not the only hurdles Oliver and co. had to jump to get the restaurant off the ground.
Airport Operating Challenges:
- Security - Transport regulations mean the size of a diner's knife blade must be significantly reduced from the average restaurant size and is smaller than regular Jamie's Italian cutlery. Other kitchen knives must also be chained down.
- Gas - Gatwick Airport has never had gas ovens in operation in its restaurants, again for security purposes. To attract Jamie Oliver and other restaurateurs the airport is now installing gas in all its North Terminal F&B units.
- Explosives - Both the bakery and the fresh Jamie's Italian pasta require using flour which meant the team had to put produce through explosive testing and build a secure room to store flour.
- Peak periods - Unlike high street restaurants Jamie Oliver at Gatwick will be a 24-hour operation closing only for cleaning. In airports 'every day is a Saturday' and the usual restaurant peaks shift to early morning and early evening.
- Deliveries - All deliveries have to be scanned while many dishes rely on mozzarella flown in from Italy three times a week which may prove a problem if flights are cancelled.
"We have just shut our minds to the things that can be prohibitive," Hunt said. "We have put ourselves on the map at Gatwick in terms of food, food quality and psychology and we want to be the best in terms of airport food."
As previously reported on BigHospitality in an exclusive video from Heathrow, airports are increasingly looking to renew the F&B offering airside while restaurant concepts are viewing transport hubs as good sites for expansion.
Gatwick Airport's owners are currently investing £1.2bn to update the airport including its F&B and retail facilities in a bid to make it London's main airport. "Jamie is a brilliant fit with Gatwick because he challenges the status quo," Guy Stephenson, chief commercial officer at Gatwick Airport, told BigHospitality.
As part of the investment the business development team at Gatwick conducted customer research with some of its 34m annual passengers which indicated Jamie's Italian was the most popular restaurant brand. It was after seeing the results the team contacted Oliver and the project took off.
Further F&B development will be focused at the North Terminal where new carriers have changed the type of passengers using the airport and their expectations. An as yet unnamed restaurant is due to open in early 2013 while the JD Wetherspoon Red Lion pub is expected to be relocated creating further space for a new business.
The entire project features design elements that are new to the business while the food on offer will be a mix of current and new menu items for Oliver's restaurants.
The team has said apart from a few dishes there would be no noticeable difference in prices although the kitchen is 40 per cent larger than a normal Jamie's Italian.
The bakery will produce bread and pizza bases for all parts of the restaurant as well as acting as the 'grab and go' concept selling fresh salads, sandwiches and meats to eat on the move or on the plane. The team will also be making cordials such as Dandelion and Burdock in-house.
Union Jacks will focus on 'British tapas' small plates and pub-inspired snacks while Jamie's Italian will be a largely traditional offer with the addition of breakfast including the Midnight pan-fried breakfast made famous by Oliver on his first BBC TV series The Naked Chef.