By Shirley Hawkins
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 (ACDBE) 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 significant 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, Betcha Burger, Peet’s Coffee, and coming soon is Qwench/Wetzel’s Pretzels.
ACDBE certification is a U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) program that offers opportunities for small businesses wishing to participate in 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 finance job but soon realized 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 chuckled.
Plummer secured a position as a front-line restaurant manager at LAX, 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 certified ACDBE and a minority joint venture (JV) partner of the British company SSP America.
When COVID-19 spread across the globe, it also severely impacted the food service industry. The pandemic affected the SSP group’s US operations which had racked up two billion dollars in debt.
With mounting losses increasing, SSP decided 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 many of the key players with the company,” said Plummer, who was also 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 ensure that this was what I wanted to do.”
Plummer assembled a team of Black and minority partners to form Concord Collective, a 100% ACDBE business. The group worked closely with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), LAX commercial developer and manager Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Airports (URW Airports), and SSP America to take over SSP’s restaurants.
“A lot of hard work and collaboration went into getting us to this point,” said Plummer. “Everyone recognized the significant opportunity and came together to make it work. They wanted to ensure my success, and I am truly grateful.”
LAWA 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, LAWA. “Greg Plummer is a model for how we want to see our ACDBEs build their businesses at LAX and become prime concessioners – and help to bring in and mentor more ACDBEs. 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 held by another prime concession contractor who cut short its lease.
Plummer, who works 12-hour days, said 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 me, 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 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.
Concord Collective can be contacted at joinourteam@concordcollective.