La Ferme bakery serving pastries, sandwiches at RDU Terminal 2
Lionel Vatinet hopes that one day you can smell his new La Farm Bakery and Cafe before you even get to see it, at the bottom of the escalators in Terminal 2 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
But for now, the aroma of fresh bread and pastries must penetrate the masks people are still forced to wear at airports to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Vatinet sighs and recognizes that people are not yet taking full advantage of the ovens in his bakery.
“When the masks are taken off, people will have more sense, a wonderful sense of smell,” he said with the thick accent of his native French. “It’s going to be different.”
Masks are just a challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic posed at La Ferme au RDU. the Cary Bakery, known for its crispy bread and white chocolate mini baguettes, was due to open a year ago, just as the pandemic decimated the airline industry and emptied airports.
Now that travelers are returning, La Farm opened last month, becoming what RDU President Michael Landguth calls the airport’s “flagship restaurant”. Landguth, Vatinet and dozens of others held a bread cup to celebrate on Thursday.
“As the Research Triangle community returns to air travel, we hope that La Farm’s new presence will come as a welcome surprise to those who haven’t flown in a while,” said Landguth.
Mercedes Andreacchi of Fuquay-Varina was pleasantly surprised to see La Farm as they prepared to board a flight to Tampa on Thursday. Andreacchi is a regular at the La Farm pop-up store in Fuquay-Varina.
“I texted my wife and I was like, ‘They’ve opened up a place at the airport,'” she said. “We are quite devout. We go get a loaf of bread every week.
After sending the text message, Andreacchi bought two white chocolate chopsticks from La Farm to take to her parents in Florida.
RDU wants more local offers
The opening of La Farm reflects RDU’s broader desire to showcase local restaurants and retailers in its terminals. The bakery, which offers locally grown and ground grain, replaces Brighton, a national shop for women whose lease had expired.
But that effort was delayed by the pandemic, which left several dark and closed retail spaces in terminals, including the former Bond Brothers Brewery, a restaurant that offered beer made by the Brewing company based in Cary. 42nd Street Oyster Bar, a branch of RDU the venerable restaurant in downtown Raleigh, is also expected to close soon.
Passenger traffic has rebounded faster than industry officials expected six months ago, but remains below pre-pandemic levels. About 887,000 passengers entered and exited RDU in June, about 33% less than the same month in 2019, Landguth said.
Work is another challenge. Like retailers elsewhere, La Ferme and its operating partner at RDU, the Mexican airport concession company MERA, struggled to find enough workers for the new airport cafe. Vatinet has said he would like the cafe to be open as long as flights leave and arrive, but for now it is only staffed from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Staff and reduced hours also limited the menu initially. In addition to breads and pastries, La Farm offers coffee, sandwiches and breakfasts all day long, including another signature dish, the Croque Madame, made with ham, gruyere and mozzarella on sourdough bread. grilled topped with Mornay sauce and a fried egg.
Over the next few months, as its hours of operation expand, the cafe will feature burgers and other bistro items and open La Farm’s first full-service bar. It will be called La Bar.