WACO rhymes with taco.
For years, that’s how people at WACO Aircraft Corp. have explained the correct pronunciation of the name.
So when WACO Kitchen opened on the second floor of the classic bi-plane manufacturer at 15955 S. Airport Road at the Battle Creek Executive Airport, it did so with the the WACO Taco as its signature dish.
“What else would you call it?,” said Randall Nash, head chef at WACO Kitchen.
WACO Kitchen opens for carryout Monday. It’s the first restaurant at the airport since 1988 and is part of a $20 million expansion project at WACO Aircraft Corp.
Sven Lepschy, chief executive officer for WACO, said the blend of locally sourced American and European style cuisine and the panoramic views of WACO aircraft production and the runway at Kellogg Field make the eatery unlike any other.
“WACO Kitchen is something totally different… We want to be different in food selection, food choice, in quality, and hopefully, we can open soon so many many people can get their first impression and say, ‘Wow, this is something I have never experienced before,'” Lepschy said by phone from Florida. “It’s very important we get the point across that airport food does not have to be bad. In fact, it is really really good in Battle Creek.”
Under the current orders by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, WACO Kitchen is offering takeout at this time, and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Nash said the restaurant will have a seasonal menu prepared from an open kitchen, with vegetables sourced from Avalon Farms in Climax and beef and dairy from Moo-ville Creamery in Vermontville. Vegan and gluten free dishes are also offered.
“We’re locally sourcing everything we can. It’s coming straight out of the dirt and into the restaurant,” Nash said. “There’s a very limited amount of things in the freezer. “Everything is being made from scratch. We’re not opening cans and bags of soup or anything. If anybody wants any of my recipes from my kitchen, leave an email and we’ll send a recipe over to you.”
The WACO Kitchen opening was delayed due to the pandemic, so Lepschy said the restaurant is ready to offer a dine-in experience as soon as the state order is lifted, when it will begin serving alcohol.
That dine-in experience will include large windows overseeing WACO bi-planes manufactured and serviced and floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony overlooking planes taking off from and landing on the runway.
“We want to be transparent to our guests with the open kitchen design, with the open window design to the outside and to our manufacturing facility,” Lepschy said. “I can’t wait until the restaurants can open up again so we can enjoy the food here fresh and have the ambiance. I personally can’t wait until it becomes spring and summer and we can open up the windows and sliding doors and get that fresh air, the airplane noise and all of that.”
‘The community’s airport’
The Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field is a city-owned, public-use, joint civil-military airport that opened in 1925. The 1,500-acre facility is home to WACO Aircraft Corp., the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, the Battle Creek Air National Guard 110th Attack Wing, Duncan Aviation and other aviation businesses. The WMU College of Aviation is currently undergoing its own $22 million expansion.
While WACO Kitchen figures to serve the airport community, the eatery also fits into a larger vision of making the airport more accessible to Battle Creek and its surrounding communities.
“Over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, a lot of fence has gone up and signs that say, ‘Do not enter.’ That has worked against this idea that it’s the community’s airport,” said Larry Bowron, director of Battle Creek Executive Airport. “What a restaurant does, it allows the community to get out here and touch and feel the airport in a way that they would not normally be able to.”
The Sky Room opened in the Kellogg Airport terminal in 1960. That was sold in 1963 and became Kitty Hawk, a 75-seat restaurant that closed in 1988, a year after air passenger traffic ended at the airport.
WACO’s Battle Creek roots
WACO was formed by Elwood “Sam” Junkin and Clayton Bruckner of Battle Creek. The pair were seniors at Battle Creek Central High School and members of the school’s aeronautics club in 1915 when they built and flew a closed fuselage airplane.
In 1920, Junkin and Bruckner partnered with barnstorming pilot Buck Weaver of Ohio, and capitalized on his more famous name in establishing W.A.C.O., or Weaver Airplane Company of Ohio. The company operated out of Troy, Ohio, becoming the largest producer of private aircraft in the United States during the golden age of flight (1920s and ’30s) before before ceasing operations in 1947.
The WACO Aircaft Corp. was formed in Lansing in 1983 and moved to Battle Creek in 1999 before opening its 30,000 square foot facility. It was sold in 2018 to Dimor Group Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is a subsidiary of Dimor Aero of Cologne, Germany. Renovations continue as it expands its headquarters to 80,000 square feet with two new hangars, manufacturing, engineering and office space along with the second-floor restaurant.
“You’ll see all the planes, you’ll hear all the planes taking off and landing and it will be an experience you cannot have anywhere else,” Lepschy said. “With our large open windows into our service facility and production facility, you can literally watch WACO’s fly, watch them being built while you are enjoying your WACO taco.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley