Bhavesh Patel, who started as the airport’s first Director of Concessions six months ago, remembers the moment he fell in love with aviation.
“One of my most vivid memories was at age 9, when my family was moving to the United States from India, and I found myself head to head with a 747 at the Bombay airport,” Patel said. “I was enamored with the concept of flight from that moment on.”
He became intent on becoming a pilot.
“My parents were against that because they said I’d never be home,” Patel said. “I told them I won’t be a pilot, but I will get into the aviation field somehow.”
As a compromise, he earned a degree in Aviation Business Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
After graduation, Patel worked in the administration/finance department at Tucson International Airport and then did stints at Northwest Airlines and General Electric Engine Services.
He got his start in concessions at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, with the start of construction of DFW’s Terminal D, working briefly with the current CEO of Tampa International Airport, Joe Lopano.
“It was a five-year green field project” Patel said. “We built a new Grand Hyatt hotel, 28 new airline gates, and a brand new concessions program.”
After Dallas, Patel went on to perform consulting services at SH&E in Portland, Oregon, where he specialized in concession planning and financial forecasting, modeling and analysis. After Portland, Patel went on to San Diego International Airport, where he spent more than four years working on revitalizing their concessions program. He was headed to Chicago next when Lopano called him about a job in Tampa.
“I was literally getting my fingerprinting done in Chicago for another job,” Patel said. “This position was a new function as part of Mr. Lopano’s focus on improving customer service at the Tampa airport.”
When Patel and his wife, Sunita, visited the area, an airport employee invited them out to Anna Maria Island.
That was all it took.
“If you ever want to convince someone to move to Florida, just take them to Anna Maria Island,” Patel said. “The bridges go on forever like a dream and the water is so warm compared to the Pacific.”
Patel, Sunita and their two sons, Shivam and Shyam, moved to Florida shortly after the visit.
Not surprisingly, Patel loves food. He eats mostly vegetarian -- no heavy red meats – but does indulge in seafood.
“I recently went to Taco Bus and ate the shrimp tacos,” Patel said. “They were scrumptious and I loved the authentic corn tortillas and the freshness of the ingredients.”
He is also fond of the fresh seafood at Oystercatchers on Bayport Drive in Tampa, and Tampa’s Cuban cuisine.
“I’m a big time foodie,” Patel said. “I love the different flavors created by the use of fresh ingredients and seasonings. It doesn’t have to be fine dining to be delicious.”
As the airport’s first Director of Concessions, Patel is deeply involved in HMSHost’s $5 million upgrade of TPA’s restaurant and retail offerings. The project includes the addition of several local favorites in the airport, including First Flight, a Wine Bar by Mise En Place, Columbia Café, Shula’s Bar and Grill, Green Iguana and Cigar City Brewing.
“Creating a sense of place and enhancing the customer experience is extremely important,” Patel said.
The official grand opening and unveiling for all new airport concessions is slated for the end of May.