All Hail the Hall

By Lauren Cook and Liz Donovan

Thanks to a new citywide restaurant trend, foodies may discover the Big Apple is their oyster. Or pizza. Or avocado toast.

A server hustles during the happy-hour rush as customers enjoy a drink at the Pennsy.

Food halls, large retail spaces that house multiple restaurants under one roof, are on the rise in New York and around the country. Customers can choose from a selection of local artisanal favorites and meet in the middle to eat together. Think of them as shopping-mall food courts, given an upscale New York makeover.

These culinary depots are practically popping up by the day. In February, Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research for the Americas at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm, predicted that as many as 150 new food halls will open in the United States by the end of 2019. Last week, he told Columbia News that based on the growth he’s seen since then, the number is likely to be closer to 200 or more. By 2020, he predicts, the market will have tripled since the end of 2016.

“It’s by far the hottest growth story in retail at a time when there’s not much growth,” he says. “I think [food halls] are going to become part of the permanent landscape in America.”

In June, City Acres Market debuted in the Financial District, featuring outposts from Artichoke Basille’s Pizza and Vanessa’s Dumplings. This 13,000–square-foot eatery adds to the multitude of new halls that opened in the city last month. Those include Kitchen 21, in the historic building that once housed Childs Restaurant on the Coney Island boardwalk, and Canal Street Market in SoHo, which serves up a range of culinary options from Mediterranean (Box) to Asian (Izakaya x Samurice and Nom Wah Kuai) to smoothies (Lulu).

Maximilian Castallo whips up a superfood smoothie at LuLu, a kiosk located in the Canal Street Market.

The concept is such a hit that culinary bigwigs are jumping onboard. Anthony Bourdain is slated to unveil his much-anticipated Bourdain Market in 2019. An Instagram account showing the scouting process has attracted more than 30,000 followers.

Also next year, two-star Michelin chef José Andrés plans to open a Spanish-themed hall at Hudson Yards in partnership with culinary innovators Ferran and Albert Adrià. It marks the first U.S. project for the Adriàs, also known as the “El Bulli brothers” after their acclaimed modernist restaurant in Spain.

Danish chef Claus Meyer brings life to Grand Central Station through the Great Northern Food Hall, where he grows microgreens to be used in Nordic dishes.

At the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas last month, Brown presented alongside Chef Todd English, owner of the food hall at the Plaza Hotel, about this new culinary trend. “ At that event alone, I talked to probably to 70 different developers who had projects we weren’t aware of yet,” he says.

And although New York remains what Brown calls “the food hall capital of the world,” he’s seeing interest in small cities and towns around the country, especially areas hoping to attract tourists by featuring local agriculture.

What’s behind their appeal?

From Facebook newsfeeds to smartphone apps, we’ve become accustomed to personalization, Brown explains. With food halls, that concept comes to life. Imagine this: a carnivore and a vegan walk into a food hall. It reads like a joke, but if they entered the Pennsy, next to Madison Square Garden, they’d run into meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda two booths down from the Cinnamon Snail, a popular vegan eatery that also has a kiosk at City Acres Market.

“To have this on the street corner is way more exciting than just one restaurant,” says Adam Sobel, owner of the Cinnamon Snail. “It provides this very casual, more exciting eating experience.”

Adam Sobel, owner of the Cinnamon Snail, poses with his book, Street Vegan, in front of his outpost in The Pennsy.

Sobel notes the perks extend to the vendors as well. In addition to the entry point, which he says is lower than that required to open a free-standing restaurant, operating costs are subsidized by the multiple businesses. “They might all share the same bathroom and ventilation system and cleaning staff,” he explains.

The diversity of dishes allows diners of all backgrounds to explore a different cultural heritage. “Our view towards food in the last 20 years has radically changed,” says Brown. “We’re much more adventurous with our food now.”

For instance, Turnstyle, an underground hall in the Columbus Circle subway station, is home to Bolivian Llama Party, one of the few authentic Bolivian restaurants in Manhattan. It’s run by brothers Alex, Patrick, and David Oropeza, whose parents moved to New York from Bolivia in the 1980s, according to New York Daily News.

Last year, Jeppe Andersen left his home and successful restaurant outside Copenhagen, Denmark, to work as a sous chef at The Great Northern Food Hall, a Nordic-themed hall in Grand Central Station helmed by famed Danish chef Claus Meyer.

The Great Northern Food Hall in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station specializes in Nordic cuisine.

The Great Northern Food Hall offers specialties rarely found on this side of the pond, including an open-faced rye sandwich. Although new to many Americans, Andersen says it’s a staple in Denmark. [It is] definitely something people want to try and need to try,” he says.

These open-face rye sandwiches are a lunchtime staple in sous chef Jeppe Andersen’s hometown outside of Copenhagen.

The success of this style of eatery came as a surprise to Andersen. “If you asked me three years ago if I wanted to come over here and work in a food hall, I’d probably say ‘no,’ ” Andersen says, adding that in spite of his initial trepidation, he plans to stay put. “I think it’s where I belong.”

Listen to an exclusive interview with Andersen:

Will the craze continue?

At least for the foreseeable future, when it comes to culinary trends, the food hall reigns supreme. In fact, Brown suspects the trend represents a permanent change in the food industry. “Food halls are here to stay,” he says. “The real challenge ahead will be for the standalone restaurant since this is going to keep growing in population. We’re really just at the beginning.”

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