Last week I was in Pittsburgh for a business meeting and was able to make time to visit the Smallman Galley. First things off, I have been meaning to visit the Smallman Galley for over a year, but the wait was definitely worth it. I would have to say that it was one of the better food concepts I have personally been to in the past few years.
The Smallman Galley is located in The Strip District, an previously industrial/warehouse district of Pittsburgh on the edge of downtown. The Strip District was historically the market district for Pittsburgh, but now it is an eclectic mix of residential, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and makerspaces. It has the cool factor that pulls in a younger millennial crowd.
The Smallman Galley has been in operation for several years now and is NOT your typical food hall. There are 4 restaurant concepts in the 6,000 square foot space, along with a great looking bar serving local beers, ciders, mead, and cocktails. The four kitchens are out in the open, and operate as a restaurant incubator for aspiring chefs looking to establish themselves in the industry and try new concepts.
From the Smallman Galley website:
We cultivate and accelerate undiscovered Chefs by providing a forum to showcase their capabilities, hone their craft, develop business acumen, and build a cult following behind their concepts. With four fully outfitted kitchens and seats for 200 guests, we provide the infrastructure for Chefs to bring their concepts to market at low-risk and for low-cost. Our chefs run their own restaurants in our space and have the autonomy to run their businesses the way they’ve always dreamed. They set the menu. They hire a staff. They interact directly with customers and build their following.
Chefs operate their restaurants rent-free for their entire stay with us. Smallman Galley collects 30% of top-line revenue generated from each restaurant. Chefs use the other 70% to purchase inventory, compensate staff, and pay themselves. All marketing, advertising, equipment maintenance, space upkeep, and utility costs are covered by Smallman Galley.
It is a great business concept for both sides. Chefs are able to begin a business without worrying about paying rent or outfitting their kitchen, and they also get a strong customer base in a high traffic location. The owners of the Galley get a cut of the revenue of each restaurant, and can also become equity partners of the business after “graduation”. Since the Galley is a restaurant incubator, concepts rotate every 12 to 18 months. This keeps diners coming back to favorites prior to graduating the incubator (I made it in a week before Brunois and Colonia finished their stay), and anticipating new chefs and concepts.
The food is all made-from-scratch using local ingredients when possible. From a sampling of all four concepts, the quality is high, on-par with what you would get from a quality local restaurant rather than a food court.
Now a restaurant incubator that has a rotating cast of chefs and concepts, along with a fantastic bar is one thing. But the environment that the owners were able to create in an old warehouse building adds to the experience. A mixture of long communal and individual tables in a double height space that is primarily brick, wood, and metal provides the perfect environment for a place you want to visit again.
The Smallman Galley is definitely a best practice on how to open and operate a successful restaurant incubator. In operation for several years now, it will be interesting to see how the owners evolve the space. One recent idea that has been implemented is rotating and graduating restaurants at different stages of the year, rather than all at once, ensuring that the Galley is never in complete flux. The newest entrant is “Home” a concept on higher level comfort foods such as burgers and fish sticks. Now I just have to find out when my next visit to Pittsburgh is…