Oct. 24, 2016
As NBAA and other concerned stakeholders continue their efforts to defend California’s embattled Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) from threats of closure, two storied and longstanding airport businesses are feeling the pressure of the city’s repeated actions to stifle operations at the airfield.
Rotorcraft instructor Brian Vidor opened Typhoon, a Pan-Asian fusion restaurant located at the southwest corner of SMO’s terminal, after he saw the property for lease during a 1991 fuel stop at the airport.
“We were the only restaurant and lounge that stayed open late in this entire area, and we’re still the only live-entertainment venue,” Vidor said. “Our customers come from all over the area. Parents bring their children here.”
After Typhoon’s lease expired in 2015, Santa Monica officials initially offered Vidor a short-term agreement, despite his request for another 10-year lease. “They finally said they’d give me the longer term, but at three times the rent I’m paying now,” he explained. “That’s completely unrealistic.”
The Spitfire Grill is another popular SMO hangout for pilots and the non-flying public. First opened in 1954 as the Lindaire Coffee Shop, the Spitfire Grill, and its colorful employees, were even the basis for a 1996 film of the same name.
Despite this storied past, owner John Clarizio has also encountered difficulties in securing a new lease. “I’m still hoping for a reasonable, doable, long-term agreement,” he said, adding that negotiations with city officials continue. “But I think it’s fair to say our discussions with the city have been a challenge.
“This area has always had this airport, and for more than 60 years there’s been a restaurant in this location,” Clarizio added. “I’ve owned this business for 25 years, during which time I’ve served as the caretaker for an important local business that counts the entire community as its customers.”
Combined, the Spitfire Grill and Typhoon employ approximately 70 people full time; about a third will lose their jobs, however, when Typhoon closes its doors early next month. A post on Typhoon’s website notes the city has created “business conditions so difficult that it has become impossible to carry on without incurring financial ruin.”
In addition to his employees’ welfare, Vidor worries about the hundreds of musicians who perform at the venue. “I’d love to stay open and keep the music going,” he added. “We feature jazz, big band, even tap dancers – they don’t have anywhere else to play on the west side.”
Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure, likened the situations facing Typhoon and the Spitfire Grill to “a deep stab in the airport’s heart.”
“Airport restaurants connect aviation to the non-flying public,” said Gertsen. “On a recent visit to Typhoon, I observed a family enjoying the view from the observation deck for what may be the last time. Their children were playing with a toy airplane. It was painful knowing that through its policies the city has stifled sources of inspiration for future generations.”
Typhoon is scheduled to close next month on Election Day. That evening, the restaurant will serve one final time as the landing site for a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department helicopter transporting area ballots.
“We’ve always had a big party on election nights, so it seemed fitting to end it on that note,” Vidor concluded. “Especially this year because the city’s actions are absolutely deplorable.
The restaurants are not the only SMO businesses impacted by the city’s actions.
On Sept. 15, Santa Monica served 30-day notices of eviction to Atlantic Aviation, the field’s largest fixed-base operator (FBO) and its sole provider of Jet-A fuel, as well as American Flyers, a flight school and fuel provider that has operated at SMO for decades. Both FBOs immediately filed emergency requests for the FAA to halt the eviction process, and remain open for business.
The FAA is investigating the city’s actions.