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Who Are the Orange County Eateries Going Into John Wayne Airport?

Updated: Jun 19

Our culinary columnist provides commentary on a handful of SNA’s upcoming O.C.-centric restaurant offerings.

Croissants in the pastry case at Chaupain Bakery. Chaupain is one of the new O.C. eateries that will open at John Wayne Airport in 2025. Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC

When things happen that are out of our control, what am I told? That change is good. Normally I would disagree, but in the case of John Wayne/SNA, airport dining is moving toward a more accurate reflection of the Orange County community from a cultural standpoint. From freshly baked pastries to fish tacos and more, this airport is becoming a delicious place to fly out of, thanks to these O.C.-based eateries – which is intentional as the underlying theme of these restaurants.

Now if only they would lower airfares …

While a majority of storefronts will not be opening until after the scheduled 2025 renovations at the airport are completed, they have been awarded 15-year leases on May 7 which indicates they should be around for a while. 

Here is my take on the places I’ve frequented. Additional incoming O.C. brands will include Left Coast Brewery, Five Vines Wine Bar and Tacos La Piña

The July 2023 proposed map of new concessions for John Wayne Airport. Image courtesy of the Orange County Board of Supervisors
Chaupain Bakery

In addition to storefronts in Laguna Hills and San Clemente, Chaupain’s bounty of pastries are also available for consumption in five farmers’ markets throughout the O.C.: Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Dana Point, San Clemente and Irvine/Great Park. 

If that reach wasn’t enough, Yelpers ranked it sixth in the U.S. for Best Croissant back in January this year; I consider that a pretty good track record. Also, owners/spouses Sarah and Sami Ellouze’s croissants are delightful – I go out of my way for one when I’m near the Laguna Hills DMV, as Chaupain is just down the hill from it. 

According to Sami Ellouze, “We are adjusting the menu mostly for the grab-and-go sandwiches/soups.” In addition, pastries, cakes, coffee and yogurt will be on the menu.

Friend of Chaupain, Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge executive chef Alfonso Ramirez (who worked at Chaupain previously), had this to say about the Ellouze family: “They are a quality-focused brand. Creative and hands-on. They treat people well and have built a caring culture with their staff and their guests.”

Sami Ellouze and the team at Chaupain are ecstatic to be expanding to the airport. “We had many customers stop by the shops to buy baked goods for their families when they travel,” Ellouze said.

The BLT from Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails in Ladera Ranch. Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC
Mama’s Comfort Food and Cocktails

The 10th anniversary of Mama’s on 39 in Huntington Beach off Beach Boulevard was celebrated by building a second location in Ladera Ranch. Mama’s typical crowds are more rowdy in HB than Ladera, based on what servers mentioned. Prior to Ladera, a Los Alamitos spot also opened. 

It serves a Cheesecake Factory-sized menu available at all hours, which is crazy if you ask me. But not so crazy because I have no issue with eating eggs and sausage any time of day. Pete Truxaw, founder of Mama’s Comfort Food, has indicated that the airport location will have a smaller menu. “Our regular menu has 150 menu items, but at the airport it will be abbreviated with primarily breakfast and lunch items,” he said in an Orange County Register interview.

I wonder if SNA’s dining room will also offer alcohol, like its other two locations?

The chicken salad from Wahoo's. This salad is available with any protein offered at Wahoos. Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC

Wahoo’s Fish Taco

A trio of brothers have the necessary qualities for a successful restaurant: Wing Lam is the “face” of the Mexican food brand. Mingo Lee has a legal background. And Ed Lee’s skill set has revolved around real estate (and storytelling). At least that’s how Ed explained Wahoo’s responsibilities to me previously.

With the bulk of locations in Southern California, the family’s headquarters is conveniently located in a Tustin business park relatively close for the sons, but was previously right off the 55 in Santa Ana until a handful of years ago. Wahoo’s first restaurant has been in Costa Mesa since 1988. 

As for eats, I’ve tried most of the menu, but my favorite appetizer bite is no longer (they resembled pinwheels). Offering a half-dozen protein options, diners are able to try something new with each visit. 

Regarding opening an outpost at SNA: “We are going to introduce new breakfast menu options and streamline some of the regular menu to allow for a quick casual experience; we’ll also offer some “grab and go” items,” Lam said. “We’re really excited for the opportunity to welcome visitors and serve the locals on their way out.” 

A gradual rebrand of Wahoo’s current look took shape in recent years, starting with Wahoo’s Huntington Beach next to the ocean. The barrage of stickers on windows and walls has lessened and there is a more streamlined look to HB’s eating area, yet it remains eclectic and fun. I expect this modern take on beachside tacos to be a hit for travelers searching for a familiar name.

Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza

Since 1976, the only branch of Sgt. Pepp’s was along a one-way stretch of Bristol that served the Newport Beach neighborhoods. In 2013, there was a changeover in management. Then over the last few years UCI (2021) and Aliso Viejo (2020) received their very own pizza joints. Musician and former Sugar Ray band member and drummer Stan Frazier got his hands dirty in the Pepperoni’s back of the house, serving as one of a handful of co-owners specifically in the kitchen.

Pinwheel pizzas and a breakfast pie were some of my favorite menu items when I found myself meeting friends. Oh, and beer. Always something on tap.

Brodard Express

Let’s also not forget that (at least) one restaurant had a head start in SNA’s dining evolution back in September 2023 when Brodard Express opened inside the terminal.

The quick service spot is from Lisa Dang of the Dang family who also own/operate the original Brodard in Fountain Valley (after its first location was burned in a fire), upscale Brodard Chateau in Garden Grove and Bamboo Bistro, a health-conscious version of the other Brodards, in Corona del Mar. According to Dang, renovation construction at the airport should not affect business.

If there was ever a place that represented the breadth of O.C. natives and a nod to the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon, it’s Brodard’s fresh spring rolls. But I’ll also stay for a banh mi sandwich.


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