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Fall 2014
A Smooth Landing

A popular local business takes off at Denver International Airport.

If you have ever considered expanding your retail operation to the nearby airport, the opportunity may be closer than ever. Airports have always been a beacon for local flavor but the trend has accelerated thanks to the popular “buy local” movement.

Steve Ballas of Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs, who has successfully expanded his business to Denver International, says opening an airport location is not for the faint of heart. It takes persistence, time and money, but can mean huge success with a large, captive audience. The process took Ballas over six years but he’s thrilled with the exposure and success that he, “a local, bootstrap entrepreneur,” has experienced.

SnappinDogs1Ballas’ long journey to retail success began at the age of four, in Bridgeport, Connecticut where he grew up. That year for Christmas, he received a huge box filled with play plates, cups, saucers, pots and pans followed by a play refrigerator, stove, battery operated mixer and more. “So my career path began, I wanted to help people and mostly feed people,”
he says.

Ballas served in the local fire department and later as a police officer, yet his desire to work in food service never went away. It wasn’t until his wife Linda suggested they create a catering business that they officially got their start in food service. Following the catering business, they opened a deli in Reston, Virginia and then in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Mile-high move

The couple moved to Colorado to be closer to Linda’s family and opened Corporate Deli and Grill in Denver. Steve didn’t find a good hot dog for a while and began his quest to bring a quality product to the area. He bought a used food truck online, set up suppliers, and began selling hot dogs at area farmer’s markets. Success grew as customers craving a hot dog would call Steve’s cellphone, wanting to know his location. “To have a successful restaurant business, there must be a point of difference with ‘craveability.’ You must be different than your competition and you want people to crave your food,” Ballas says. The mobile truck’s success lead to a fixed location in 2006, with it winning numerous awards as well as loyal customers.

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Poised for takeoff

In 2007, not long after the restaurant opening, a customer raved about the food and commented that it would be a great fit for the airport. As it turns out, that customer was the airport liaison. The Ballas’ learned about the arduous process of being approved as an airport retail establishment. “The paperwork was overwhelming, but we didn’t give up,” Ballas says.

The couple needed a certain level of finances and have a retail operation partnership in place just to place a bid. Then they had to wait until a Request for Proposal (RFP), specifically for a hot dog restaurant, was published. When one did come through, Ballas partnered with established retail operators who guided him through the RFP process. Finally, in May 2013, a full six years after the initial conversation with the airport official, the Ballas’ were awarded their location
at Denver International Airport (DIA).

Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs opened at the airport earlier this year with a 1,390-square-foot dine-in restaurant and an award-winning menu. “This is a dream come true … we’re walking on air in the Mile High City,” says Ballas. “We are honored to have been chosen to have a location at DIA, with more than 50 million passengers traveling through each year it’s one of the busiest airports in the country.”

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Changing gears

To go from being a mom-and-pop business to having multiple locations, the Ballas’ had to make some changes to the way they did business. Taking on partners was one of the first changes. “We always ran our business by the seat of our pants,” says Ballas, “we also had to document everything and make our business cookie-cutter. We had to adjust recipes while making sure to maintain the high quality of
the dishes served.” Steve believes his business was chosen because of his varied food service
experience—from running full-service restaurants
to food trucks, to being a stadium concessionaire.

Ballas advice to fellow retailers? Follow your dream, your passion. Never give up because dreams come true. Don’t cut corners, be passionate about quality, go the extra mile for customers, ask
for help, and do not accept “no” for an answer.

Getting an airport location has been like hitting the lottery for Steve’s business. Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs is concentrating on growing current locations and plans on selling the hot dogs through grocery stores, markets, and sports venues. Menu offerings have been expanded to include Steve’s own craft beer and the business plans on producing its own wine soon.

Are you interested in getting your business into an airport? Here are some helpful links and contact information for a few of the country’s largest, most welcoming international airports:

Atlanta International Airport
Visit: http://www.atlanta-airport.com/
Click: Business Information in the top navigation (http://www.atlanta-airport.com/business/DoingBusiness/)
Browse: Concessions Bid Opportunities

Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Visit: http://www.flychicago.com/
Click: Business with CDA at the top of the page (http://www.flychicago.com/business/en/home/Pages/default.aspx)
Browse: Information on bidding as a retailer and open RFPs

Denver International Airport
Visit: www.flydenver.com
Click: Business Opportunities at the very top of the page (http://business.flydenver.com/bizops/index.asp)
Browse: List of open opportunities & requirements

Philadelphia International Airport
Visit: www.phl.org
Click: Business at the very top of the page (http://www.phl.org/Business/BusinessOpportunities/Pages/FoodBeverageandRetailLeasingProgram.aspx)

Browse: Information on the Food, Beverage, and Retail Program
San Francisco International Airport
Visit: http://www.flysfo.com/
Click: Business with SFO at the bottom of the page (http://www.flysfo.com/business-at-sfo)
Browse: Current Opportunities

Melissa M. Kellogg

Melissa M. Kellogg is a freelance writer specializing in small business, marketing, social media and retail business management. She is based in Edwards, CO, and is a regular contributor to GIFT SHOP magazine. Her work has also been published in various newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Mexico
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