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(Janesville, WI) Catherine Idzerda, Gazette

The phrase “airport food” usually evokes images of a $7 muffin or a $3 bottle of soda.

Trapped in the terminal, hungry flyers have very little choice but to eat whatever is available.

On Monday, Rock County issued a request for proposals for the restaurant at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.

Unlike the traditional terminal eating spots, the airport restaurant has actually attracted people.

“It has always been a destination,” Airport Director Ron Burdick said. “People would fly over to meet their friends for breakfast.

Parents would bring their children to watch the planes, Burdick said.

But the space was never set up for a restaurant, and business turnover was always a problem, Gazette files show. In the early 1970's businesses went in and out of the space at a rate of about one a year. In 1973, the county advertised for restaurant operators and only got one bid—from a vending machine company.

Other businesses, such as Cavu Café, lasted longer

In 2012, the county, using state and federal money, undertook a $3.2 million renovation project. The project, which is scheduled to be completed later this year, included demolition of parts of the old building, a new exterior, façade and windows, and the addition of a pilots' lounge, administrative offices and a conference room.

The restaurant area also was redone with all of the necessary requirements such as cookline and prep areas, hook-up ready mechanicals, walk-in coolers, dry storage and office space.

It is also set up to accommodate a bar.

But what about the setting?

The restaurant will have a “panoramic tarmac view,” according to the airport's website:

About 40,000 “operations”—take offs or landings—take place every year at the airport, Burdick said.

That's about 110 per day.

Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein said the new restaurant set-up is functional and modern, the kind of setting that could accommodate either an independent restaurant or a “fast-casual” franchise such as Applebee's.

The county decided to use the “request for proposal” process rather than just announcing it had restaurant space available to rent.

“The thought behind the RFP process was to reach out to businesses and restaurateurs,” Rock County Supervisor Brent Fox said.

It's hoped the process will reach beyond the county's borders—and the traditional types of coffee shops that have usually occupied the space, Fox said.

The facility is “really nice,” a liquor license is available, and Fox hopes the county will find someone willing to create something unusual in the space.

The request for proposal deadline is Feb. 24.

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