WALLA WALLA -- A change in restaurant operators is on the menu at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.
The Port of Walla Walla is parting ways with Italian restaurant Caravaggio, which is expected to continue at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Port officials issued a request for proposals, which were due March 23, for a potential operation to replace Caravaggio, said Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz. A draft lease proposal is in the works.
The change brings an end to a three-year relationship with Caravaggio and owner Carissa Bossini. Though the operation has been the longest running at the terminal building since 9/11, Kuntz said it does not meet the Port's service expectation for breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Bossini says she has plans to stay open in the airport location through May.
"The Port's goal is to have a restaurant that can serve as many meals as possible per day," Kuntz said. "We think Carissa had done a very good job. She's a hard worker. Our interests lie in increasing that restaurant service."
Bossini, who also operates Walla Walla Catering Co., attributed a nine-month closure in 2009 to the recession. Since re-opening late last September, she said she's been slowly returning to full service, starting with lunch service and weekend breakfasts.
Her work on the catering side continued through the economic downturn, allowing her to ultimately re-open the restaurant, she said.
Bossini has come to embrace the split that was originally initiated by the Port. She said she's on the lookout for a downtown location that will solve what she describes as a visibility problem.
"I've had that issue from Day 1," she said.
When the restaurant introduced its lasagne and other pasta dishes to the community, people flocked to try out the new business. But since then, she said she constantly hears from people who wish it was more centrally located or from people who forget it's even there.
"We're hidden," she said. "It's a destination, not a regular location."
Bossini is the fourth restaurant operator at the terminal building since 2000. After the 9/11 attacks, Flyers at the Airport was pelted by the effects on air travel and passenger traffic. The trend continued with Florentyna's and Jana's at the Port.
Kuntz said he believes the location's visibility problem can be overcome by an established eatery.
"What we need is a popular restaurant that happens to be located in the airport terminal building -- not an airport restaurant," he said.
The Port, which oversees the operation of the Walla Walla Regional Airport, owns the restaurant equipment that would be included in a new lease agreement.
Kuntz said details of a lease are still in the works, including whether to charge an operator a flat monthly fee or a smaller monthly fee and a percentage of sales.
He said a 90-day transition process will be implemented to allow Bossini to complete catering commitments and get through Spring Release weekend. Other details will depend on the language of the request for proposals and results of those efforts, he said.