Food Halls: The Next Big Thing

On my last trip to New York City, I took myself on a little field trip to check out some of the many exciting food halls that have opened there.

At Gotham West Market, way over in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the far west side of the city, I had a bowl of Triple Garlic Mazeman at the counter of Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, and then wandered by the new Broken Coconut to watch “island beach fare-inspired” poke and salads being prepared.

The venerable Chelsea Market, a block-square complex between 9th and 10th Avenues, is where I went to check out the cookware at Bowery Kitchen Supply, and buy imported pasta and cheeses at Buon Italia, with some window shopping for vegetables and seafood at Manhattan Fruit Market and the Lobster Place. Along the way, I wandered and snacked on an Asian sandwich from Num Pang and ceviche at Los Mariscos. Dessert was a Nutella crepe from Bar Suzette.

And no food-oriented visit to Manhattan would be complete without a stop at Eataly, the dizzying Disneyland of fresh and prepared foods, books, cookware, wine, and eateries that has since been replicated in other big cities.

Welcome to the brave new collision of retail and food service. New York is alive with these “food courts on steroids,” but showplace destination food halls are opening all across the country. Oftentimes, they’re part of a larger effort to revitalize gentrifying neighborhoods, but for specialty food retailers and restaurants alike they represent a new and vibrant way to showcase the brand.

In Cleveland, where Nestlé Professional is located, there is the West Side Market, a public municipally owned market that has been in business for over a century, and replaced an even older market that served the city’s immigrant market since the mid-1800s. Today it’s been modernized as a showcase for more than 100 different merchants.

Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles has been in existence for over 100 years and underwent an extensive renovation in 2012 that added trendy eateries but still celebrates the cuisine and multiculturalism of the city.

Latinicity is a new project in Chicago, spearheaded by renowned chef Richard Sandoval, that showcases modern Latin street food, with 8 food stands (sandwiches, ceviches, Latin grilled foods), a tapas restaurant, coffee café, full bar, market, and lounge.

Technomic calls food halls the next step in the evolution of food service and food retail—a natural evolution from pushcarts to one-stop-shop mercantile stores, grocers, supermarkets, mass merchants, mall food courts, and food trucks.

According to the company’s Nestlé-sponsored report “Now and Next: Lessons from Emerging Channels for Food and Beverage,” younger customers—Millennials and Generation Z—are most likely to visit these all-in-one food service/retail destinations, and are particularly drawn to authentic global and regional fare like Asian street food, barbecue, and sushi.

And for restaurant brands, these food halls represent an opportunity to expand awareness to an adventurous new client base in a footprint that is generally smaller than a freestanding location. This makes them a particularly valuable venue for market testing new menu items and service modes.

But for food lovers, these places are just plain fun and delicious to visit.

Try This:

Technomic tells us that global flavors and handhelds like street food, sandwiches, baked goods, and other handhelds are particularly popular in food hall settings, but they can also be used to bring excitement to more mainstream menus.

  • These flavorful butters and schmears are excellent for bagels, sandwiches, street corn, and more
  • Bring Latin flavor to foods with these Minor’s® flavor concentrates, including Ancho, Red Chili Adobo, and Fire Roasted Poblano
  • Thai Shrimp Kebabs and other skewered foods are perfect in retail food hall settings
  • Another great recipe for a marketplace concept? A Carne Asada Soft Taco
  • Add Minor’s GreenLeafTM Basil or Cilantro Pesto to a grilled cheese sandwich or use it as the base for a number of different sauces and dips

Source: Technomic for Nestle Professional, “Now and Next: Lessons from Emerging Channels for Food and Beverage.”