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3. The Real-Estate Market May Be Punishing, But It Is Also Liberating

Illustration by Jean Jullien  

3f. Airport Misery Can Be Lucrative
By Vicky Gan

“9/11 created this opportunity,” says Co. pizzeria’s Jim Lahey. “It made it necessary to be ready for your flight so far in advance that it was a huge boost for the airport economy.” Lahey is one of a handful of high-end chefs (including Riad Nasr, Lee Hanson, and Andrew Carmellini) who have lent their name and expertise to terminal dining in recent years. Soon after he opened Co. in Chelsea, in 2009, he was approached by OTG, the company that manages the food halls at La Guardia and JFK, to develop a restaurant concept. He proposed a deal to license Co., but OTG preferred to pay him a lump sum to create the menu and train the staff at Crust, a pizzeria that opened at La Guardia in 2011. “And then that’s it,” he says. “You’re done. It’s a very simple thing. But if you’re a chef and you have a couple kids, of course you’re gonna take the money.” There are two Crusts now, in La Guardia terminals C and D, and Lahey hopes to open a third or even another airport concept entirely. Next time, though, he’ll try to get a cut of the profits. “I would love, like, 3 percent,” he says. “Do you know how much money these restaurant concepts make? It’s unfathomable. There’s a blizzard and you’re delayed for two hours—it’s like a Cronut line to Mars.”