Developments built out of shipping containers have been fairly popular over the past decade. With a glut of shipping containers in certain countries due to global trade (it is not cost effective to ship empty containers back to their point of origin), there have been inventive ways to re-purpose shipping containers. They are easy to move, stack, and retrofit due to their simple rectangular box nature. Boxpark in London, England is one of the most well known shipping container developments, establishing itself as the first modern “shipping container retail mall”.
Today, more and more innovative uses are being created out of shipping containers. One of the newest entries-to-market is SteelCraft, an outdoor food hall in Long Beach, California that opened in February. SteelCraft may not be a new concept if you perceive it simply as a food hall, but the developers really focused on making it a social community hub for the surrounding Bixby Knolls neighborhood on the north side of Long Beach. From the SteelCraft website:
Born of a desire to see people come together over food and drinks, SteelCraft unites local eateries with a communal dining space in Long Beach. Whether you come for the food, the drinks, or the people, there’s a place for you at the SteelCraft table.
SteelCraft has been built to connect seamlessly with the surrounding community, which has experienced gentrification as many young families have moved into the neighborhood. The community has not historically had a central meeting place that could be used to socialize (such as a town square), something the developers have looked to capitalize on. The development has been constructed from 10, forty-foot shipping containers, which totals approximately 3,200 square feet of space (based off of a standard 40×8 container). The cost of constructing the urban eatery out of shipping containers was much more affordable than a typical bricks-and-mortar development, especially since a foundation and roof is not required. Communal tables are integrated in a central courtyard where various events occur on a weekly basis. Past events have included live music, pop-up retail shops, and soccer viewing parties.
I have been to Long Beach several times, and I believe that crafting a food hall out of re-purposed shipping containers is a great homage to the Port of Long Beach, which has been a major employer to the city over the past 100+ years. I also think that outdoor food halls are going to become more popular, especially in regional areas of the Southern United States where weather is favorable year-round. There are more opportunities for expansion, holding events, and reconfiguration of layout with an outdoor food hall, something that reflects the history of food clusters in South Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan.
SteelCraft is also a great example of a suburban food hall. Last September I profiled four different types of food halls, and SteelCraft fits well within the suburban food hall definition, especially focusing on local vendors and marketing to local residents. The surrounding area is primarily single family residential with low-rise multi-family residential and low-rise office buildings nearby.