There is a great restaurant in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, an Italian place in the B concourse called The Tuscany Café.
This proper sit-down restaurant is off on its own, further down the concourse, around the corner past the suits, with wet hair relegated to the grab-and-goes. Here is the thing: The Tuscany Café is excellent. Not excellent for an airport or because I’m starving or because we don’t have a lot of time. I mean, unreservedly, that it is really good (excellent even) and I will return again.
When I first found it, it was like stumbling into an oasis. It was so unexpected that it slowed me down. I didn’t feel like I was in a rush. I felt like I could enjoy a glass of wine and for just a few minutes, reclaim my brain.
I spoke to the owner and told him that for close to 20 years I have been telling people that a person could make a lot of money in an airport if they paid attention to the outliers and not the masses who are looking for anything they can eat with one hand while scrolling with the other.
When I told the owner how much I enjoyed the restaurant and applauded the initiative, he told me about an Italian place in nearby Rosemont, Illinois (the suburb near the airport) that he worked at for years, and how this place at the airport is an attempt to be “just like it.” From what I could tell, it is working.
Airports always brag about how busy they are, which is too bad. Wouldn’t you love to live in a city whose airport boasts being the cleanest or friendliest or most convenient or most beautiful? How about the most pleasant and personally engaging? Are you smiling? That’s because we don’t expect too much from airports other than frustration and a line-up. This is a pity, really, because airports are great places for businesses to create value.
There are thousands of people, trapped, with money to spend and who are often idling for long periods of time. But the race to the bottom, to cater to the lowest common denominator, is served, faithfully and tirelessly. If you are looking for something special, you likely won’t find it in an airport.
Do you like fried “meat?” Do you like fried food? Do you like things with cheese melted on them or cooked into it? How do you feel about a lot of bread? Well then, my friend, you will be happy in most airports because there are literally piles of options for you.
Imagine how surprised and delighted I was to find The Tuscany Café at the end of a long day. And why is this always-packed restaurant a success? Because the owner isn’t comparing himself to the ‘also-rans’ in the airport who do as little as possible to feed you (there is no art in the food).
He is comparing himself to the best restaurant he can think of, outside the airport, where the standards are considerably higher. Who (or what) are you comparing yourself to? Those who appeal to the lowest common denominator, or those who are trying to make a point? Me too.