Aviation-themed restaurant to undergo $7.5-million museum-quality makeover
By Joe Piasecki
It wasn’t that long ago that The Proud Bird, a Westchester institution since 1967, was slated to close for good.
Now the aviation-themed restaurant buzzed routinely by incoming LAX flights is about to invest $7.5 million into a modernization effort that will play up its museum-like qualities and reinvent the space as a 21st-century dining hall.
The vintage aircraft parked on the restaurant’s north lawn will remain, but soon diners will be able to eat and drink under their wingspans while watching present-day airplanes approach the runway.
“This is going to be an immersive experience celebrating aviation,” said James McKennon, chief operating officer of The Proud Bird parent company Specialty Restaurants Corporation.
Sunday is the last chance for diners to visit The Proud Bird before it temporarily closes for renovations.
Plans for a grand reopening are set for December, said Specialty Restaurants Corporation President John Tallichet. He’s the son of the late David Tallichet, who founded The Proud Bird in 1967.
Tallichet announced possible closure of The Proud Bird in December 2013, prompting a community campaign to save the restaurant that led to a 20-year lease extension on condition of a remodel.
He unveiled renderings of the 50,000-square-foot restaurant’s new design last week during a celebration of The Proud Bird’s history that featured members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen World War II fighter group.
The Proud Bird’s main dining area is slated to become a high-ceilinged showcase for aviation artifacts and interactive exhibits.
“We wanted to display our artifacts in a way that gives them the attention and respect I think they deserve — really bring this stuff out for show and make it educational,” Tallichet said.
The Proud Bird’s vintage Curtiss P-40 Warhawk will be visible to passersby through a glass window above the south entrance, but the restaurant’s flight path-facing north façade will retain much of its original 1960s design. The north lawn will be opened up so that visitors can dine and drink craft beer or cocktails among the restaurant’s fleet of historic planes.
The Flight Path Learning Center at LAX plans to loan additional artifacts to The Proud Bird, museum President Lynne Adelman said, and Tallichet hopes to partner with Space X for exhibits on the future of commercial spaceflight.
“My dad liked to honor the past. I hope to keep the past relevant while keeping people up on what’s happening now and in the future,” Tallichet said.
The Proud Bird remodel also aims to honor local culinary culture by transitioning the restaurant into more of a dining hall setting, with various food kiosks serving specialty dishes. It’s not a food court, McKennon said, but a setup that will allow The Proud Bird’s cooks to collaborate with other L.A. area restaurants and offer diners expanded menu choices.
They’re already talking barbecue recipes with Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, he said.
Restaurant seating will be scattered among the various museum-style exhibits.
“The vision is that people like to hang out here,” said Tallichet, “so let’s give them more space.”