New Concessions Option at Indianapolis Int’l Showcases Hoosier-Grown Specialties

New Concessions Option at Indianapolis Int’l Showcases Hoosier-Grown Specialties
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Over the course of 35 years in airport leadership, Mario Rodriguez has repeatedly experienced the truth—and sting—of the phrase, “No man is a prophet in his own land.” Time and again, the community-centric leader has seen people take for granted what’s right in their own back yard.

In his eighth year as executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, Rodriguez is working to turn that frustrating theme on its ear by championing a new concessions option at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) that features some of the best products Indiana has to offer. 

“How do you make your community better if you don’t use and showcase your community’s services and products and things of that nature?” Rodriguez asks rhetorically. 


Project: Combination Retail & Food/Beverage Concession

Focus: Agricultural products from Indiana

Location: Indianapolis Int’l Airport

Concourse: B

Name: The Farmers’ Market Featuring Indiana Grown

Size: 3,618 sq. ft.

Objective: Feature products raised & produced by members of Indiana Grown

Debut: Feb. 2023

Concessions Operator: 
SSP America

Partner: Indiana Grown, an initiative of the Indiana Dept. of Agriculture

Distributor: Piazza Produce

Key Benefits: New concessions options for passengers; commercial support of state agriculture initiative; opportunity to promote value of local farms & producers

His strategy is to focus on one of the state’s most prominent industries: agriculture. The result is a public/private collaboration that brings an abundance of harvested crops and related products from Indiana into the airport environment. In February, SSP America opened a new restaurant and retail concept in Concourse B called The Farmers’ Market Featuring Indiana Grown. The 3,618-square-foot restaurant and storefront supports Indiana Grown, an initiative of the Indiana Department of Agriculture that promotes more than 1,800 farms, growers and producers throughout the state. The new venture at IND offers a wide menu of foods and products raised, produced and packaged by more than 60 Indiana Grown members.

“What I am trying to do is change the paradigm and make sure that people appreciate what they have,” Rodriguez explains. “Obviously, it adds the economic value that builds public value.”

Agriculture Angle

Indiana Grown Program Director Caroline Patrick explains that the Farmers’ Market at IND provides airport patrons with a great glimpse into what Indiana agriculture has to offer—everything from livestock and row crops to packaged products such as cheese and coffee. 

“The amazing restaurant has really great Indiana products, not only on the menu, but also for travelers to shop for in the market area,” she says. Popular restaurant items include locally fermented kombucha and fresh salads featuring Indiana-raised rotisserie chicken. Circle Bev’s Apple Pie Kombucha, Broad Ripple Chip Co.’s Sweet and Spicy Potato Chips, and Chef Bricker’s Brick House Classic Sweet Herb Dressing & Marinade are top sellers on the retail side.

A large gallery wall features photos and stories of the people who grow and produce the goods. “Some of the featured Indiana Grown members are newer farmers that just started in 2021, while others represent multiple generation farmers that have a long legacy and dedication to the land and the soil here within Indiana,” Patrick remarks.

Before the Farmers’ Market opened at the airport, Indiana Grown products were sold at a handful of pop-up events during the annual Indiana State Fair.

“This is our first adventure into a brick-and-mortar location, and it is such a high level, amazing opportunity to be able to partner with SSP America and the Indianapolis International Airport,” Patrick says.

Airport Perspective

The new concessions concept was selected during a 2019 competitive bid process. David Shaw, director of Concessions and Airport Experience at IND, recalls putting the former Wolfgang Puck Express space out to bid.

“We had multiple companies bid on it, but ultimately, we felt most confident in the operator, SSP America, partnering with Indiana Grown to develop what you see in that space today,” Shaw says. “It was a natural, perfect fit that is the benchmark for Concourse B.

“It is so warm and welcoming,” he says of the ample space equipped with various seating options and charging stations. “If you want to cozy up to the bar and have a local beer or glass of wine, you can do that. If you want to buy local produce, jams or candles, you can do that.”

Bob Stanton, vice president of Business Development for SSP America, adds that Indiana Grown was an ideal choice because it focuses on local produce and agriculture, and fills an attractive niche in the airport’s overall lineup.

“Indiana Grown is an amazing organization that represents thousands of local Indiana vendors, farmers and purveyors,” Stanton says, noting that SSP works to bring a “taste of place” to all the airports it serves. “They simply needed a bigger stage to showcase their products on.”

The concessions specialist helped brainstorm a restaurant concept that would appeal to a wide range of passengers while effectively incorporating Indiana-grown ingredients into its recipes.

“The central challenge we thought we might have is coordinating the procurement of products,” Stanton recalls. “But by leveraging the services of our distributor Piazza Produce, that problem was solved. Overall, operating restaurants in airports is a complex task compared to street-side restaurants, but we have an incredible team who are very skilled at what we do and have proven themselves capable of overcoming any challenge we face.”

Stanton reports that IND was incredibly supportive throughout the entire process.

“The location was initially designed with a gate to enclose a more formal style restaurant with more extensive table service,” he explains. “But the airport supported our initiative to open up the location and allow for more fluid foot traffic. So now the space operates as both a restaurant and retail store.”

The menu and lineup of retail products will change throughout the year according to what crops and products are in season.

Warm Reception

Other proponents for the concept include Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who also serves as the state’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. Crouch had this to say about the Farmers’ Market at its grand opening in February: “Indiana Grown is near and dear to my heart, and I am incredibly proud of this program and the work it’s done for its members over the last seven years. This partnership between Indiana Grown, the Indy Airport and SSP America is a great way to show that the entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in Indiana.”

Rodriguez believes that the new airport concession will pay dividends for all—and in doing so may help turn the tide about no man being a prophet in his own land.

“If we bring Indiana into the airport and positively affect the economy of the general area, it will not only positively affect the economy, but it will showcase what we have, which probably will lead to more sales of that company that puts their products here,” he reasons. “And that is what we are all about.”


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