When customers return to The Proud Bird restaurant at the end of the month, they won’t recognize the place.
Gone is the traditional sit-down steakhouse and white linen tablecloths, replaced by a revamped food bazaar with open space and a host of new food offerings, a concept akin to Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market or the Anaheim Packing House.
“It’s not your grandfather’s restaurant anymore,” said John Tallichet, president and CEO of Specialty Restaurant Corp., which owns the iconic restaurant that sits across from two runways at Los Angeles International Airport.
The Westchester restaurant closed more than a year ago for the massive renovation, and will reopen as a modern food hall with several different stations for diners, he said.
“We decided to create a kind of place that people can come to and feel comfortable spending time and is more casual, more approachable than what we had before,” Tallichet said.
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Since it opened in 1967, the eatery has become a favorite for aviation buffs who enjoy watching planes take off and land while they eat.
The renovated eatery will have a soft opening later this month, with a grand opening planned for sometime in July, Tallichet said. The project, which began in January 2016, originally was scheduled to take 10 months, but delays caused by record winter storms and problems with the decades-old building set the renovation behind by several months, he said.
‘It’s too important’
The Proud Bird has a long connection to the surrounding community, which became apparent when it appeared the restaurant would close for good thanks to a rent dispute with Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX and owns the property, Tallichet said.
Originally, The Proud Bird was slated to be grounded for good in 2013 after LAWA pushed to hike the restaurant’s rent from just over $18,200 a month up to the market rate of $500,000. Eventually, the dispute was settled, and in 2015 the restaurant signed a two-decade lease to remain in its current spot.
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“I had a lot of people call me up and say, ‘John, you can’t close down, this is too important,’ ” Tallichet said. “We heard it from so many different parts of the community, and after hearing that we felt like we had a role to play and it was important.”
Tallichet said the restaurant is working with some community vendors, including Compton-based Bludso’s BBQ, to bring local food to The Proud Bird.
Keeping the feel
Preserving that connection to the community was important even as the restaurant was revamped throughout. The event spaces and weekend brunches — both popular elements of the original restaurant — will remain, Tallichet said.
Not everything from the old restaurant was tossed. Among other curios and aviation relics, a suit of armor that stood near the stairwell in the original Proud Bird will maintain its post in the new restaurant, Tallichet said. The armor was a gift to his father, who founded The Proud Bird, from another restaurant he ran, and it eventually made its way incongruously into the aviation-themed restaurant, where it will remain.
“It was something that was so unique to the property that we kept it,” Tallichet said.
And while the thousands of photos that used to adorn the walls of the restaurant came down during the renovation, the new space will have monitors with a rotating display of the images, he said.
Aerospace past and future
The restaurant will still stay in touch with its roots with aviation relics and a replica P-40 Flying Tiger fighter plane suspended from the open ceiling, but it’s keeping an eye toward the future of aerospace in the South Bay as well, Tallichet said.
One wall of the space is dedicated to Hawthorne-based SpaceX, with photos provided by the commercial rocket company adorning a portion of the restaurant. The photos will be continually updated as SpaceX, which was recently awarded an Air Force launch contract, continues to grow.