Newark Liberty’s Odete Cunha Serves Up a Jersey State of Mind

By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff 

A new Jersey Shore is coming to Newark – no, not the one with JWoww and Snookie. This one’s in Newark Airport, complete with a fish market, wooden picnic tables, and sea blue walls to transport passengers to one of the state’s most popular destinations.

The recently opened Jersey by the Shore food hall, along with Garden State and Ironbound-themed joints at Newark Airport’s Terminal B, is part of a massive restaurant and retail upgrade the Port Authority is implementing across its airports to enhance travelers’ experiences. And the woman behind it all, Odete Cunha, is no stranger to delivering customer experience upgrades at the bustling New Jersey hub.

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Cunha has always wanted to work in an airport, though when she started with the Port Authority 25 years ago in the Comptroller’s Department, it wasn’t clear that was where she’d end up. But her people skills, accounting background, and top-notch organization brought her up to her current position, Newark Liberty’s Concessions Manager, where she’s been for 12 years now.

She’s in charge of developing new restaurant and retail opportunities across Newark Airport, no small task for one of the nation’s busiest airports. On any given day, she could be meeting with terminal operators, restaurant operators, a construction company, or her Port Authority colleagues in the Customer Experience unit of the agency’s Aviation Department.

“It takes a village to run a successful concessions program at an airport,” Cunha said. “Not to mention, we’re making all these upgrades to the airport while the airport is still operating.”

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A section of the redesigned concessions area

Before opening the food halls, Cunha managed several other major customer service initiatives at Newark Airport. Most recently, with Terminal B’s concessions manager Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), her team piloted AtYourGate, a new dining app that delivers orders directly to passengers’ gates. She also participated in the negotiations for the selection of OTG, Terminal C’s food and beverage operator, to develop and operate new restaurants at the terminal, which brought in iPads as a tech-savvy way to order food.

Cunha says she loves the sense of satisfaction that comes with finishing a big project. The opening of the New Jersey-inspired food halls, along with many other initiatives, required her to review surveys on passenger behavior and food preferences to understand how to best serve them. She also met regularly with stakeholders, such as URW’s operations, design, and marketing team, restaurant operators and Terminal B facility staff to incorporate everyone’s vision.

But perhaps the most fun part of the whole process is participating in the redevelopment of the new design, layout, and aesthetics of each New Jersey-themed dining area.

“We wanted a cohesive vision in developing these food halls,” Cunha said. “We added things like natural materials and greenery to give passengers a sense of place, so they can experience all the great things New Jersey has to offer from the moment they enter the airport.”

In the Jersey by the Shore area, travelers will find beach-inspired favorites like Malone’s Fish Market, Little Tony’s Pizzeria and Firehouse Subs. In the Ironbound district, passengers can try a diversity of local flavors from Piattino’s, StrEat, and other restaurants. In the Garden State oasis, travelers will have the chance to try food from New Jersey-born restaurants such as the famed Cake Boss, Salsarita’s, and Tony + Benny’s Pizza Parlor. Plus, Budweiser Brewhouse offers a local beer garden setting just blocks from Newark’s flagship Anheuser-Busch brewery.

For a New Jersey native who grew up flying out of Newark Airport, the opening of these New Jersey-themed food halls is an especially proud moment.

“I’m so excited for our travelers to experience my home state in this way,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without our Port Authority team.”

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