The Proud Bird restaurant, which is adjacent to LAX, almost served its last customer in 2013, until the community “raised their hands and said, 'We need to save this place,'” said owner John D. Tallichet, president and CEO of Specialty Restaurants Corp., whose parents opened the iconic eatery in 1967.
“My dad was passionate because of being a World War II pilot. Our family was passionate about aviation, but we really felt that the restaurant had served its time like many restaurants do. We weren't really sure how it was going to fit in in the future … A lot of people would say, 'John I love the Proud Bird, but it looks kind of old and tired," Tallichet said.
When the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners awarded Specialty Restaurants a 20-year lease in January 2015, it gave them an opportunity to reinvest. Originally $6 to 7 million was to be invested in renovating the Proud Bird, but that soon ballooned to more than $12 million before they officially opened its doors this month.
“The number keeps going up … Over time there were so many things that we discovered that needed to be fixed or upgraded that took a lot of investment,” Tallichet said.
But now the 50-year old Proud Bird has been re-hatched as a modern interactive museum and Food Bazaar. It features eating stations as well as the Mile High Club Bar and Lounge. The 50,000 square foot space features floor-to-ceiling windows allowing panoramic views of the LAX runways while enjoying lunch, dinner or weekend brunch.
The Food Bazaar is a self-service dining experience that includes Compton's Bludso's BBQ, a well as Asian, Latin, Italian and American cuisines. Carnivores can enjoy Bludso's barbecue ribs, brisket or pulled pork and vegetarians can grab a healthy salad at another station.
There is additional entertainment besides the food and drink, according to Bradley Burkett, Specialty Restaurants Corporation district manager.
“Flight view monitors are set up at the bar so you can watch all the planes come in and out of LAX ... You can download an app and listen to the East Tower and traffic control and listen to them talk,” said Burkett, who added they supply earbuds for listening in.
The Proud Bird was also a destination for the aviation historian, with thousands of vintage photos lining the walls and memorabilia throughout the restaurant. The museum aspect of Proud Bird has also gone through an evolution. Many of the original or fiber glass planes are still on exhibit, but more than 10,000 photos are no longer there, but are now incorporated into murals and digital displays. The photos will find new museums as homes.
Tallichet said his father, David, a B-17 pilot during World War II, always had respect for airmen, including the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American military pilots during WWII. He said they hired a museum curator to develop the displays that focus on everything from the history of the Proud Bird to women in flight to the Tuskegee Airmen. There is also a nod to the future of aviation, including memorabilia provided by Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX.
“We've been given some really neat artifacts over the years, but we didn't know how to take care of them,” Tallichet said.
The Proud Bird, which is located at 11022 Aviation Blvd. in Los Angeles, continues to provide event space with six renovated banquet rooms.
For more information, visit theproudbird.com or call (310) 670-3093.