Flight Line Café & Catering: A Hidden Gem
By Donna Kelly
Restaurateur and pilot Amir Anoshiravani has lived in three different countries and flown all over the world.
These days he’s bringing his world view to his new home base: the Flight Line Café at the Winter Haven Municipal Airport.
The café boasts a view of the runway action at Gilbert Field and an eclectic menu featuring a mixture of southern favorites and world cuisine prepared with creative flair by professional chefs.
“It’s a place you can come if you’re old, young, middle aged – it doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or the end of the week – to be able to enjoy yourself morning, lunch or dinner,” Amir says. “It’s a very friendly restaurant.”
The Flight Path to Winter Haven
A native of Persia, Amir was 5 years old when his family moved to Denmark.
“I grew up with chefs in the family,” says Amir, 39, who began working in his family’s restaurant when he was 15 years old.
He also spent a fair share of his time around pilots.
“I grew up in aviation. It’s in my blood,” Amir says. “I had two options in life — become a pilot or become a chef.”
He chose aviation and moved to the United States when he was 21 years old, settling in Lakeland to attend the Aviation Career Academy. He’s flown for Northwest Airlines, Qatar, and Southern Air over the course of his professional aviation career.
“I’m Persian by birth; Danish at heart; and American by choice,” he says.
Amir didn’t open his restaurant at Winter Haven Municipal Airport by accident. He was familiar with the facility and community because he taught beginning pilots at the facility for awhile.
“Winter Haven has heart,” he says when asked why he chose the location for his restaurant. He’s here for the long haul.
“I chose this place because when I retire, I still want to be around airplanes,” he says, smiling. “When you become a pilot, it’s like catching a bug. You can’t get out of the community.”
Flight Line Café and Lessons from Flying
Amir’s grin widens as he studies the café and describes a business philosophy that evolved during his years of flying. “First of all, we’re going for a theme that addresses the airport/airplanes,” he says, highlighting the view of the runway and artwork featuring airplanes.
The dining room is sleek and contemporary, yet warm and inviting. A new party area with a wing-shaped table with airplane seats will be added in the near future.
Winter Haven resident Jeanette Hughes enjoys the café’s atmosphere.
“The café is an open space, but somehow the booths and tables are set up in a way that it seems more intimate. You’re not crowded in with everyone,” she says. “I also like sitting there watching the planes take off and land. In how many places can you do that?”
Then there are the basics.
“Good food, good drinks, and good service,” Amir says. “Who doesn’t want it?”
Flight Line offers a diverse menu, a full bar featuring wines bottled specifically for Flight Line and live music from 5:30 p.m. to closing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“I like to be different. I like to give service that nobody else thinks of,” he says.
He believes in personally being at the restaurant not only to oversee operations, but to visit with customers, too. He tries to stop by each table to personally welcome guests to the café.
“It’s one-on-one. You have to mold yourself around your client base,” he says. “You cannot be absent if you’re a restaurateur.”
And he enjoys seeing families with children walk in the door.
“I love taking kids out to the airplanes and making memories,” he says.
Décor and location aren’t the only aviation-related qualities found in the restaurant. Many of Amir’s business practices, such as his habit of active listening, also stem from his experience as a pilot.
“If you listen, hopefully you have a solution,” he explains. “I do whatever I can do to make sure you leave here satisfied.”
He believes in exercising patience, another lesson he learned through aviation. For instance, closing time and the hours of live music are subject to what is happening at the time. If there’s a crowd and people are enjoying the music, he’s likely to ask the musicians to continue.
“Everything is determined by what customers are doing and enjoying when closing time rolls around,” he says. “Patience pays off.”
Creativity and Professional Chefs
Amir says some folks venture into the café because they heard he was a pilot; others come because they want to experience it as part of the airport.
Regardless of what drew them to Flight Line, the food is often not what customers expect.
“A lot of them are really surprised because it’s not really airport food,” he says.
The quality and ethnic diversity of the food stem from its preparation by trained chefs of varying backgrounds.
Adam Hoar, a certified chef whose experience includes working the kitchen on oil rigs and private yachts, has been with Flight Line since it opened in March 2017.
“We started with southern cuisine, but with Amir’s cultural background, we’re dabbling in international cuisine,” Hoar explains.
The addition of Francesco Millán, who arrived in Winter Haven shortly after Hurricane Maria destroyed his Puerto Rico home, and Ismael Sotomayor, offers more opportunities for new twists on old classics.
Southern classics are prepared with a creative twist. For example, fried green tomatoes are served with bacon, feta cheese crumbles, and chipotle ranch drizzle.
“Everything we make here is made from scratch. I think that has a lot to do with the flavors we put out there,” Hoar says.
Creating dishes from scratch also allows chefs to accommodate special diets, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free.
“Our food is as if it was homemade,” says Hoar. “We pay attention to freshness and detail.”
Sotomayer, a culinary chef who began cooking in the army, agrees. “You don’t have to go far to get good food,” he says. “When we do something ethnic, we do it as close as we can to the place of origin.”
He became a professional chef in 2000.
Millan, a professional chef with 15 years experience in Puerto Rico, praises the top-notch coordination between the kitchen and the dining room.
“They have a nice service at the front of the house. It’s like they’ve known you a long time,” he says. “We cook as fast as we can to get the food to your table while it’s hot and fresh.”
Hughes appreciates the food and service.
“The food is excellent and I appreciate that the chefs want to use local ingredients whenever possible. Everything I’ve eaten has been great,” says Hughes. “Amir is always there to greet you as you come in, and the wait staff is friendly and professional.”
On her first trip to Flight Line Café, Hughes was pleasantly surprised. These days she drops in with friends to share what she knows will be a memorable dining experience.
“The Flight Line Café is not what someone would think about a restaurant located at an airport. It’s perfect to visit with friends or to have a quiet, romantic dinner. It feels like a hometown place with class,” she says. “Plus, I love the fact that it’s a place ‘where everybody knows your name.’”