By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Gregory Plummer, the CEO and managing partner of the 100% minority-owned small business Concord Collective, recently made history as the first African American to own eight dining locations at Los Angeles International Airport, the biggest ever acquisition by a minority-owned business of a large food concession operation at a major U.S. airport.
Concord Collective is the first Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise business to take over the entire portfolio of the London-based airport concessions giant SSP Group, a major food and beverage concession operator.
When the deal to buy the restaurants closed in April 2021, it was viewed as a major milestone for certified minority business enterprises in the airport retail market.
The new LAX restaurants operated by Concord Collective include Panda Express, Einstein’s Bagels, Chick-fil-A, Ace Cervecería & Tacos and Betcha Burger, Peet’s Coffee and coming soon is Qwench/Wetzel’s Pretzels.
Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certification is a U.S. Department of Transportation program that offers opportunities for small businesses wanting contracting opportunities at airports.
Even as a teen, Plummer recalls that he has always been passionate about food.
“I have been working in the food beverage area ever since I was in high school,” said the Detroit native and Morehouse College graduate who moved to California in 2004.
After moving to California, Plummer landed a job in finance, but soon realized that he wasn’t happy. He realized that working in the food industry was his true calling.
“My mother was always sending me cookbooks because she knew I was interested in food,” Plummer said.
He secured a position as a front-line restaurant manager at LAX, spending the next 12 years working his way up through minority-owned and operated CMS Hospitality.
“My mentor was Clarence Daniels. I worked for his company for 12 years,” he said.
Plummer said that working at CMS Hospitality was a great opportunity to learn on the job.
“You have to wear many hats,” he said. “I learned human resources and loss prevention. You have to mop the floors, cook or do whatever is necessary to keep the business afloat.”
In 2016, Plummer started his own company, Enjoy Repeat, a minority joint venture partner of the British company SSP America.
When COVID-19 spread across the globe, it also severely impacted the aviation industry. The pandemic affected the SSP group’s U.S. operations, which racked up $2 billion in debt.
With mounting losses, SSP made the decision in 2020 to exit its leases at LAX. Realizing that SSP was looking to sell its eateries, Plummer approached the group.
“I was a partner with SSP America. I was very close to the company and had relationships with a lot of the key players with the company,” said Plummer, who also was a consultant for the company. “I told them I would like to buy the business if they wanted to sell it. I didn’t think about COVID lasting forever and I saw an opportunity to go after what I wanted. SSP was very supportive and they wanted to make sure that this was what I really wanted to do.”
Plummer assembled a team of Black and minority partners to form Concord Collective. The group worked closely with Los Angeles World Airports and Unibal-Rodamco-Westfield to take over SSP’s restaurants.
“A lot of hard work and collaboration went into getting us to this point,” Plummer said. “Everyone recognized the significant opportunity at hand and came together to make it work. They wanted to make sure I was successful and I am truly grateful.”
The airport fully supported Plummer’s bid.
“At Los Angeles World Airports we’re focused on creating more opportunities for small, local and disadvantaged businesses,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive officer for the airport. “Greg Plummer is a model for how we want to see our [concessionaires] build their businesses at LAX and become prime concessioners. … We want to congratulate Greg on his accomplishments and thank him for choosing to expand at our airport.”
Plummer said he recently won the rights to three more airport dining establishments that had been held by another prime concession contractor who cut short its lease.
Plummer, who works 12-hour days, said that he rises at 5 a.m. to start fielding calls by 6:30 a.m. The rest of the day he handles day-to-day operations and is grateful for the help he receives from his staff.
“We have 140 team members and front line staff,” he said. “There’s myself, my partners and my general managers.”
Plummer said that his restaurants serve approximately 5,000 people a day.
Plummer said that one of the challenges that he currently faces is finding more employees to fill various positions at his eateries, including cashiers and food service workers.
“I’m proud that we made history at LAX–hopefully, we are able to showcase what is possible and attract people who want to be operators at the airport,” he said.