"I was never not busy after that," Aranza says. "So I learned how to cook, how to bake, how to cashier, how to take orders, how to do everything at some point. I became the utility guy."

He kept the job once school started in the fall, cutting his workload to around 40 hours a week. By the time he graduated from high school, he had been invited into the National Honors Society and saved enough money to begin classes at the University of Texas at Austin, where he would earn his bachelor's degree in business administration in just 27 months.

While attending UT, Aranza again took a job with Dobbs House, this time cleaning floors at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. A management job was offered to him as he wrapped up his degree, but Aranza had decided to become a lawyer after watching the ABC television show The Young Lawyers, which was canceled after only one season in 1970-'71.

Gilbert Aranza thought he had a contract extension in place to provide food and beverage concessions at Dallas Love Field Airport until Mayor Tom Leppert decided that he wanted the contract put out for bids.
BrandonThibodeaux
Gilbert Aranza thought he had a contract extension in place to provide food and beverage concessions at Dallas Love Field Airport until Mayor Tom Leppert decided that he wanted the contract put out for bids.
Aranza examines his wall of rejected proposals from other cities, some of which he claims are proof that the bidding process isn’t always fair.
BrandonThibodeaux
Aranza examines his wall of rejected proposals from other cities, some of which he claims are proof that the bidding process isn’t always fair.

In September 1973, Aranza was accepted to Harvard Law School, where he "fell in love with the tax code." Instead of another airport gig, he worked as an accountant and started a federal tax service with a friend.

Ten years later, Aranza went into the restaurant business with Ted Strauss, a successful businessman and widower of former Mayor Annette Strauss, and Cappy McGarr, Strauss' son-in-law and a Democratic fundraiser. Aranza knew Strauss because he worked as a tax lawyer at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The trio opened a chain of J. Pepe's Tex Mex Grill & Cantinas.

"He was about as good a young business man as I had ever met," Strauss says.

Aranza left the law firm in 1986 to become the city's first minority partner in another major law firm, but he took a leave of absence in 1993 after selling his stake in J. Pepe's to open several Pizza Huts in Mexico, including the world's largest. However, "the peso devalued and ruined me," he says, so he returned to Dallas and eventually combined his restaurant expertise with his experience working in the airport industry.

In addition to his interests at Love Field and D/FW, Aranza also has operated the concessions at the Dallas Convention Center since 2002. After he saw airport sales drop following 9/11, he began pursuing concessions contracts at military bases. Six years later after his request, Congress finally approved his first contract at Norfolk Naval Base, and he subsequently became a concessionaire at Fort Hood.

Aranza says he's done "all the right things" at Love Field, including investing $2.45 million into his concessions after 9/11 and submitting proposals to invest $2.8 million in February 2007 to add Starbucks and Quiznos locations and $3.25 million in March 2008 to add On the Border and Corner Bakery restaurants. His proposals also included higher rents, and all he asked for in return were shorter-term contract extensions than what are on the table now.

He claims neither proposal was given much consideration by city staff. Leppert won't address them specifically, only stating his preference to re-bid the contracts.

"The city should celebrate a black-brown business," Aranza says of his joint venture with Daron Pace, who owns a 23 percent stake of Dallas Love Field Joint Venture with two McDonald's locations while Aranza holds the remaining 77 percent. As long as he's providing a great service and the airport's not losing money, he says, he should be allowed to stick around.

Not to mention that his contract already secured 10-0 council support in February, "only to get pissed on and crapped on by the mayor because he's smarter than all of us," Aranza says.

The council's Transportation and Environment Committee in June 2007 first began tackling how best to handle the concession contracts set to expire four years later. The staff recommendation at the time was to extend both contracts for three years and then accept bids for the new terminal.

The committee didn't publicly discuss the concessions in detail again until April 2009, when the staff recommendation had changed significantly. Daniel Weber, the city's aviation director, told committee members that the incumbent concessionaires "have served Love Field well" and earned a place in the new facility. He expressed the staff's commitment to allocating comparable space in the new terminal to Star and Hudson, and said the city's consultant recommended adding a second concessionaire for both the food and retail spaces to encourage competition.

Along with extending Star's and Hudson's contracts until construction of the new terminal was finished, Weber also suggested negotiating to stretch their contracts well beyond that—12 years with a three-year option, as it turned out. When the new terminal was finished, it would roughly double the concession space at the airport, and the added space could go out for bids. But Vonciel Hill, Carolyn Davis, Pauline Medrano and Ron Natinsky questioned whether doubling the number of concessionaires was necessary.

Aranza told committee members that the plan would be "suicide for both operators" because there would be too much space, and Helen Giddings complained about the location of the spaces that she would receive in the new terminal.

"Clearly, we didn't like the RFP [request for proposals, or bidding] process," committee chair Linda Koop summarized.

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