Future is uncertain for popular ‘community restaurant’ at Sacramento Executive Airport

Aviator’s Restaurant, a fixture and local favorite at the Sacramento Executive Airport, may soon be losing its longtime operator or be forced to move from its iconic location.

After 24 years, Sacramento County decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease for 2024, instead opting to continue on a month-to-month basis while it accepts bids from other vendors for the space on the 6100 block of Freeport Boulevard inside Executive Airport, according to a county spokesperson.

Current owner Cheung-Sang Chik says he has no idea why the county changed course after renewing his lease without concerns for the last 24 years.

“This time they have a glitch,” he said in a phone call with The Sacramento Bee. “I followed the rules, I did everything they asked for. Other than that, I don’t know why this year it’s a little bit different. They haven’t given me a straight answer.”

In a statement, Stephen Clark, deputy director of commercial development for the county’s airports, said the choice not to renew the Chik’s lease was a “routine administrative procedure.”

“The department intends to continue to provide the public with an approachable and affordable dining option that celebrates the Airport’s rich aviation heritage,” Clark said in a statement. “The airport will not require a change to the Aviator’s aesthetic or concept.”

Aviator’s Restaurant is a popular dining destination, known for its affordable prices and unique location. Decorated with floor-to-ceiling rich, wood paneling and tall windows, diners can admire models of historical aircraft hanging from the ceiling or watch small propeller airplanes as they land and take off at the nearby tarmac.

Aviator’s Restaurant opened under Chik’s ownership in 2000, and has grown into a well-attended local hangout.

“My customer base I have built up for 24 years, not just one day,” Chik said. “I offer a reasonable price to eat . . . On the weekends, it’s the families that come out with the kids to look at the planes.”

“People come out and see their friends,” he added. “They don’t have to call them, they’re already here.”

On a weekday morning last week, the Aviator’s dining room was bustling with more than 40 patrons — a blend of families and retirees — as breakfast service drew to a close.

Chik, a longtime restaurateur, moved to Sacramento in 1982 after living in Hong Kong and England. He said spent large portion of his career thinking about what kind of clientele he wanted before opening Aviator’s, noting the restaurant was popular among seniors and families with young children.

“It’s a community restaurant,” he said.

The terminal and offices of Sacramento Executive Airport on the 6100 block of Freeport Boulevard in Sacramento on Nov. 30, 2023. The county has switched leasing for the airport’s popular restaurant, Aviator’s, to a month-to-month lease as it explores bids from other vendors for the space. Aviator’s, which serves breakfast and lunch, has been leasing the space in the airport for 24 years.

A petition to save the restaurant called it “a jewel in the community,” and had garnered more than 2,700 signatures of its 5,000 goal as of Thursday.

Clark said the county is encouraged by the Federal Aviation Administration to re-evaluate its concession contracts and will open a public comment period seeking opinions on bar service, cuisine and entertainment.

At present, Aviator’s Restaurant is open 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., serves breakfast and lunch and does not serve alcohol.

Clark said in a statement that a request for bids will open in early 2024.

“The current operator remains in good standing, and airport leadership welcomes and has actively encouraged the operator to participate in the competitive bidding process,” he said.