The new restaurant was built on the second floor of the freshly overhauled company headquarters on the grounds of Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field, part of a $20 million renovation and expansion project. The eatery, a rare and possibly unique confluence of classic general aviation biplane manufacturing and farm-to-table cuisine, opened January 4 offering curbside and rampside carry-out weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Those hours will expand and inside dining will open once local restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 are eased. Patrons will then be able to take in a panoramic view of Runway 5L/23R while noshing or turn their attention to watching Waco biplanes being built and serviced through brand-new observation windows.
The signature dish is a taco made with chicken strips piled on a corn tortilla, served with marinated napa cabbage, house-made mango jalapeno salsa, and a “silk chili drizzle and lime zest crema.” It was inspired by the oft-repeated guidance to pronounce “Waco” just like “taco,” and the restaurant was the product of a company owner and its chief executive—Dieter Morszeck and Sven Lepschy, respectively—who are passionate about aviation and sought to add value to their community. And they mean community both in the sense of the residents and GA pilots whom they hope to welcome from all over.
“WACO Kitchen is a new platform to raise awareness of our passion for aviation and food,” Lepschy said in a news release. “Our guests have an insight to our production and service facility though the kitchen windows and the large open balcony windows.”
Oliver Nyaguy, a chef from Switzerland, is credited (assisted by members of his family) with designing the details of the culinary concept. They drew on deep knowledge of food, hospitality, and holistic medicine to arrive at a menu built around locally sourced protein, dairy, and organic produce to create healthy, tasty meals sold for reasonable prices. A set of three Waco Tacos will set you back $11. The “Flying Flatbread,” “Barnstormer Burger,” and “Pilot’s Cavatappi” sell for $12 each. A vegan and gluten-free “Refuel Bowl” can be had for $9.
On top of those permanent attractions, the rotating seasonal menu launched with a $21 crab burger, the most expensive item on the menu. It’s a seared lump crab patty topped with avocado tartar sauce, marinated cucumber, and arugula served on toasted brioche. A bowl filled with grilled flatiron steak, butternut squash, broccoli, and shaved brussels sprouts on a bed of quinoa and brown rice tossed in hazelnut chimichurri sells for $15, and $8 will get you a stew of French green lentils, carrots, celery, onion, and wild mushrooms in a seasoned vegetable broth that might hit the spot on a cold day.
Those of you who have not yet hopped in the car to drive to the airport for an immediate flight to Battle Creek might be persuaded to follow the front-runners by the guilt-free aspects of eating locally sourced, healthy food while ogling airplanes. (Be advised, a rich chocolate cake and Apple Strudel are also on the menu.)
Guilt avoidance measures extend to the restaurant’s use of compostable takeout containers, in which those so inclined can have a side of kale slaw delivered, or a “Superfood Salad.” A Korean Pork Taco on the seasonal menu offers carnivores a suitable alternate.
Restaurant Manager Brooke Pembroke and Head Chef Randall Nash brought a combined total of more than 30 years of food service and hospitality experience to their jobs, according to the restaurant website. Seasoned pros will handle the food and beverage assembly and delivery, leaving the handcrafting of distinctive biplanes to those who are well-versed in that part of the newly expanded burgers and biplanes business model that Morszeck and Lepschy mashed together with apparent glee. According to the press release, Waco plans to host fly-in events with specials for pilots and passengers, “including a free meal with a fuel fill-up.”
“I always say: we have to be different than others,” Morszeck said in the press release. “Being different is good, being different is unique and being different makes us successful—in every way. There is nothing average or equal to WACO Kitchen.”