Legacy Spotlight: Peter Amaro Jr.
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
By Michael Dunphy, Ten Thirty Media
This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to airport concessionaires about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Peter Amaro Jr. serves the world one guest at a time. In fact, that’s the mission of his company, Master ConcessionAir, a Miami-based airport concessionaire with a growing track record success. At airports in Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Key West, Orlando, Sarasota, and Washington D.C., he and his team have provided both comfort and food to millions of travelers, airport workers, and airline crews through food and beverage facilities.
It’s a skill honed over the generations and part of the classic American success story. “My family emigrated from Cuba in 1962 without a penny to our names,” he explains. “So, the humble beginning was truly that, humble.” It was also determined, and over several generations, what started as a single, simple, rented delivery vehicle grew into a $68M business with 480 hourly staff members.
“We have an excellent reputation and excel with local businesses, Amaro enthuses, “because we are flexible and understand the partnership needs since we were a small company just a few years ago. These qualities led to a partnership with HMSHost through the ACDBE program. “HMSHost was crucial in the growth of our company. They are a leader and pioneer in giving the ACDBE companies all the tools they need to eventually stand alone and compete in our industry.”
Horizons were indeed sunny for Master ConcessionAir at the start of 2020, but then came the Coronavirus, which slammed into his business harder than any hurricane. “The business has been devastated by the pandemic,” he stresses. “We have lost nearly 99 percent of our revenues and been forced to release 95 percent of our hourly associates.”
As hard as it was to do lay off so many employees, even worse for Amaro was explaining the crisis to his family. “Their first question was, ‘Is the business going to make it?’ and I couldn’t answer other than to say, ‘With a lot of help, it may.’”
That’s particularly tragic as both children, now college students, had been considering joining the business and taking it forward into a new generation. “It would just bring this full circle for me,” he remarks. “They are proud to see that as immigrants we are part of such an important and global industry.”
Luckily, the previous generations passed down many lessons of resilience that Amaro counts on in this challenging time. That starts with preparing for the regular ups and downs of business, and he has seen many in his life—hurricanes, 9/11, the 08’ bubble burst, shifts in federal funding, increased competition, and so on.
However, no amount of resilience training can withstand the current impact of the coronavirus, and the survival of Master ConcessionAir is by no means assured. In fact, without significant help from the federal government, it looks ever more unlikely. Nor is he convinced that any recovery will be swift. “From what I have learned after 25 years in this industry, it is going to take years for the airport traffic to return to standard.”
He also asks for direct relief for concessionaires from the federal government rather than trickling down from the airports. “When the relief is direct we are better positioned to turn the business around quicker and more efficiently,” he explains. “The trickle down only slows the process down and creates financial challenges that force you to react conservatively, which eventually makes for a slowing of rehiring, unit openings, menu options, reinvestment in your spaces and therefore return to the airports.”
The negotiations between the airport and concessionaires are just as important for Amaro as direct aid from Congress, particularly regarding rents and opening dates: “We would ask to scale percentage rent according to airport traffic and stage our reopening dates so the airport concessions companies aren’t forced to all open with only a portion of the airports traffic has returned.” That would force a purge of the smaller companies, Amaro believes, thereby reducing the quality of the airport experience overall.
But a business loss still pales against one of legacy—one that the country needs more than ever. “In everything you do,” Amaro says, “Make sure to give opportunities to others, no matter what position they hold in your company, and make available the tools necessary for them to grow within your business.” In other words, pass on the American Dream.
“Hopefully the help will come, and we can continue to grow our family business once again, but for now it is all about survival,” Amaro explains. Until then, he leans on his favorite mantra during challenging times: “This too shall pass.”
About the Author
Michael Dunphy, Managing Editor of Fly Washington, Air Chicago and LAX magazines / Instructor at Gotham Writers Workshop