Shipping Containers being utilized for urban eatery at SteelCraft

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 central courtyard – Image credited to SteelCraftLB

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.


SteelCraft vendor – Image credited to LA Times


Urban Food Hub Developing in North End of Detroit

The idea of an Agri-Hood in the past has always been a suburban context.  Agri-Hoods have popped up around the United States over the past few years, most of them still in the planning or construction phase.  I have viewed Agri-Hoods as America’s new “golf course community”, where houses on large lots meander between green areas, ponds, orchards, vegetable gardens, and greenhouses.  Instead of a Par 3 behind your house, you might have a grove of apple trees.  Agri-Hoods are a fascinating idea, however two major issues have come up so far:

  1.  Agri-Hoods perpetuate urban sprawl that has plagued North American cities for the past 70 years.  The low density nature of Agri-Hoods mean that they are entirely car dependent, and they are not likey to have public transportation as an available mode of connectivity.
  2. In current Agri-Hoods, the amount of agriculture in comparison to residential is minimal.  Some Agri-Hoods feature less than 10% of agriculture in comparison to residential.  “Greenwashing” becomes an issue since developers are capitalizing on a trend to sell real estate.

In Detroit, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is creating what they call America’s first urban Agri-Hood on a 3-acre development site.  MUFI is a non-profit organization that “engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture”.

The  Agri-Hood in this context is very different, where an agricultural community hub is being built on the North Side of Detroit to generate urban renewal and provide sustainable healthy food to the local community.  A dilapidated three-story building will be re-imagined as a Community Resource Center that will include operational space for the non-profit organization, along with multi-purpose rooms for culinary and agricultural education, and industrial kitchens for business incubators.

MUFI Community Resource Center - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Community Resource Center – Image credited to MUFI

Across the street from the Community Resource Center is MUFI’s 2-acre urban farm that has already produced over 50,000 pounds of produce for the local community.  This food is distributed to households in a 2-mile radius through a “pay-what-you-can” model, local markets, restaurants, as well as churches and shelters.

While I’m not sure if this should be classified as an urban Agri-Hood just yet, it definitely is a Food Hub, where produce is grown and then distributed in an organized network throughout Detroit.  The development concepts display a small orchard and vineyard on two other properties behind the urban farm, so the tentacles of an urban Agri-Hood are spreading.  This is a great case study that demonstrates how culinary uses can be used to positively generate urban renewal, all while feeding the local population.

Check out the MUFI website to see the site development plan and read more about this exciting project.

MUFI Urban Farm - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Urban Farm – Image credited to MUFI

TOD building re-purposed for Food Hall in Denver

Most food halls that are in re-purposed buildings end up being single entity developments.  Ponce City Market in Atlanta bucks the trend, as do some other urban projects.  Zeppelin Developments in Denver is re-purposing a former art campus in the RiNo neighborhood (which moved to a new location) into a retail market, food hall, and office building.  Definitely a Culinary Oriented Development.

According to “BusinessDen” , Zeppelin Station will have a 25,000 square foot culinary-based market on the ground floor, with 3 levels of office above that will total 75,000 square feet in total.  The food hall portion will have new local concepts such as tacos, ramen, and a Montreal-style bagel shop.

Zeppelin Station - Image credited to 303Magazine

Zeppelin Station 1st Floor Layout – Image credited to 303Magazine

Steps away from the 38th Street RTD station, Zeppelin Station will have excellent transit access in the growing district of trendy RiNo (River North).  It is considered Denver’s art district, where a large cluster of creative companies have clustered, whether it is art, marketing, branding, software, and tech.   The food hall will definitely appeal to the primarily 20 to 40 age demographic of the RiNo district, especially during lunchtime.

Zeppelin Station is demonstrating that you don’t need a large-scale food hall to garner interest.  I would actually say that many of the most popular food halls are smaller in scale, such as Pine Street Market in Portland.  These food halls are “right-sized” for the local market, and are able to have a strong stable of tenants rather than going “BIG” and ending up with higher-turnover.

The project is expected to open in October 2017.

Zeppelin Station Exterior - Image credited to Dyna Architects

Zeppelin Station Exterior – Image credited to Dyna Architects

West Louisville FoodPort Development Canceled

With a busy fall, I was surprised that this news slipped through the cracks in my news feed.  The West Louisville FoodPort, an innovative Culinary Oriented Development that was a game changer for local food distribution, vertical farming, and education has been shelved due to its primary anchor pulling out of the project.  The non-profit developer, Seed Capital was unable to find a new anchor that made the project financially feasible to construct.  Even with the local government “gifting” the land to Seed Capital for $1, the developer was unable to create financial sustainability in the project.

This demonstrates how difficult it is to create inventive and pioneering developments that have not yet been proven to successfully work.  15 to 20 years ago, many developers, tenants, and financial institutions were wary of mixed-use and transit-oriented developments.  The commercial development sector is slow to change, and ROI (return on investment) is the key factor.  It took several decades before mixed-use developments and new development typologies became more prevalent, especially in the North American context (and even more so in the suburban context).


OMA designed West Louisville FoodPort

I see this effort by Seed Capital as a parallel case study.  They were trying to be first-to-market with a new concept that could assist the West Louisville community from a food security, education, and job standpoint.  Unfortunately the idea of food ports and Culinary Oriented Developments are still in their infancy.  The financial numbers are not as prosperous as constructing a big box power center, where revenues are more stable through retail lease agreements.   I don’t doubt that there will be further efforts in the coming years to establish food ports in other North American cities.  And a developer that is able to construct such a project will likely need the backing of not only the local government and community, but businesses who are able to potentially sustain short term losses for long term gain.

Read the full article here.


Bourdain Market Slowly Continues to Develop

After a brief hiatus of travel through Central Europe for work and pleasure (a few upcoming blog posts will cover this), I am back with regular blog updates 3 to 4 times a week.

Vogue magazine recently published an interview with Anthony Bourdain.  A good part of the article is based around his upbringing and success with his television show.  What it also revealed are details on the much-hyped Anthony Bourdain Food Hall which seems to be called “Bourdain Market”.

Pier 57 is a hulking postwar structure that juts into the Hudson River at the end of West Fifteenth Street. Built in 1952, it was one of the largest and busiest piers on New York’s waterfront, but the building became obsolete in the seventies, when the shipping industry started to use cargo containers. It was a bus depot for a while, and then a temporary detention center during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Now empty, the 480,000-square-foot structure is being readied for renovation and eventual occupation by two major tenants. Google has signed on to take over a large section, and 155,000 square feet is due to become a vast food hall called Bourdain Market.

155,000 square feet is enormous for a food hall.  Most modern food halls in the United States are in the range of 10,000 to 40,000 square feet.  Even if one-third of the space is used for common areas, seating, hallways, and back of house, that is still over 100,000 square feet of space for tenants.  This means there could be upwards of 100 to 150 merchants in the food hall at full fit-out.  Amazing, but also a very daunting task.  There are only so many noodle stands, fusion tacos, or fresh ground burgers before it can become repetitive.  But if anyone can convince tenants to move into the space, it is Bourdain.

Bourdain Market is expected to be open in 2019, and I suppose the countdown clock is on.

Re-Imagining the Food Market Hall in Eastern Europe

Apologies for the delay in new blog posts for the month of October, I have been travelling out-of-country for pleasure and work and will resume more consistent blog posts in the week of October 24th.

In the meantime, I would like to leave a great link from the Urban Land Institute on the revival of a historic food hall in Warsaw, Poland.  ULI has provided a case study on  developers purchasing a historic property, refurbishing it, and centering activity around culinary uses.   The project officially opened this week, and 118,000 square feet is set aside for restaurants, food stalls, and culinary-based retail endeavors.  There is also 54,000 square feet in office space.  With 68% of leasable area put towards culinary uses, this project can definitely be defined as a Culinary Oriented Development.

Food as Fashion: Reviving a Historic Food Hall in Warsaw, Poland

Culinary Oriented Uses Foster Redevelopment Plans

Birmingham, Alabama may not be the first place I think of in terms of Culinary Oriented Developments, however an exciting new mixed-use project is opening this fall in downtown Birmingham.  This goes to show that COD’s are popping up all over the United States, and not in typical metro areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

The Pizitz is a 250,000+ SF mixed-use redevelopment of a former department store building that was originally constructed in 1923.  Pizitz department store closed in 1988 and there have been efforts over the past several decades to redevelop the site, however various issues (financial, market) always came up.  It may have been for the best, as developer Bayer Properties has invested $70 million into the revitalization and restoration of an iconic building in Birmingham.


Pizitz Exterior Rendering -Image credited to Bayer Properties 

There will be 143 multi-family apartments, office space, and ground-floor retail.  The Culinary portion?  Bayer has included 18,000 SF for a food hall and bar which is expected to open in winter 2017.  While local food will be on display in the food hall, the developers also wanted to bring ethnic and world flavors to Birmingham.  Consulting with a local food blog, there are plans to have Asian, Indian, Israeli, and African food stalls, providing a mix of tenants that the local market has shown demand for.

The food hall anchor will be a bar titled “The Louis” and will serve craft cocktails, local beer, and will even feature a milkshake bar for those who aren’t feeling boozy.  This is one of the first Food Hall concepts that is anchored by a bar and it will be interesting to see how it is received.


Pizitz Food Hall Outdoor Courtyard – Image credited to

REVBirmingham, a local P3 Economic Development Organization is also currently working with Bayer Properties to include a restaurant incubator in the project.  REV looks to stimulate business growth and improve quality of life in Birmingham’s City Center and its Neighborhood Commercial Centers, and a restaurant incubator fits its mandate of creating new jobs for the local population.  REV plans that the restaurant incubator will allow entrepreneurial start-ups the ability to try their culinary concept, all while learning how to properly run a business.  The restaurant will have up to 6 months to establish themselves, before vacating the space for a new restaurant in the incubator.  The thought process is that the vacating restaurant will either move into an available space in the Pizitz Food Hall, or into their own space in downtown Birmingham.  I will make the assumption that rent at the restaurant incubator will be considerably lower than that of a typical space in the food hall.

Other uses in the Pizitz development will include several full-service restaurants and the Sidewalk Film Festival offices and theaters.

Farm-Based Brewery is a True Culinary Oriented Development

Over the Labour Day long weekend I took a quick visit to British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, a quick 40 minute ferry ride from Vancouver.  Located only 5 minutes away from the Langdale ferry terminal in Gibsons is Persephone Brewing Company.  All craft breweries I have visited in the past were urban in nature, primarily located in industrial buildings.  Persephone is a farm-based brewery located on a scenic 11-acres of land where they grow their own hops on site (farm-to-barrel).  The brewery and tasting room are located in what seems to be a refurbished barn.  Yes I know, very cool!


Persephone Brewing Company – Image credited to BeerMeBC

As with many Culinary Oriented Developments, Persephone acts as a community hub.  When I visited on a sunny Saturday evening, the on-site pizza oven was blasting, dogs were running around the grass fields, young children were feeding chickens, older kids were playing board games, and the adults were of course drinking delicious micro-brewed craft beer and cider.


Persephone Craft Beer and the farm chicken coop – Image property of

Just to amp up the case of Persephone Brewing Company being British Columbia’s first craft beer-based Culinary Oriented Development, they also have a stand that sells local produce called “Farmgate 2 Tailgate”.  Here you can purchase whatever local BC farmers have in season, from heirloom tomatoes and garlic to peaches and plums.  As a sum, Persephone is a farm (hops, chickens), a restaurant (pizza), a local produce store, and of course a micro-brewery.   It is no wonder that the community uses it as a gathering space.


Farmgate 2 Tailgate at Persephone – Image property of

Persephone integrates 5 important goals/areas into their practices as stated on their website.

PBC’s Integrated Farm Plan identifies five key areas within its operations that demonstrate our commitment to developing a multi-functional farm that will contribute to rural development and the local economy. These five areas are:

  1. Production of hops: currently 1 acre in production with another 5 acres in development and plans to partner with other hops growers through shared access to equipment, resources and markets.
  2. Contract farming & marketing options to maximize agricultural potential: 1 acre and 2 greenhouses leased to Backyard Bounty for production of organic field vegetables. These veggies will go directly into our food served onsite!
  3. Community partnerships:
    Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living, will provide delivery services for our Beer Box program, provides the lion’s share of the labour on our farm and helps operate our wood-fired oven.

  4. Sustainably managing waste outputs: we currently compost all spent grain, hops and yeast from the brewery and are developing systems to reclaim brewery runoff for crop irrigation and energy consumed in the brewing process.
  5. Culinary and agricultural tourism opportunities: We partner with Farm to Feast to host long-table dinner events featuring locally grown and foraged foods paired with our amazing beers. We are installing a wood fired outdoor oven for preparation of locally made breads, pizzas, and other beer-enhancing delights featuring ingredients grown on site. We are applying for a Special Event Area endorsement encompassing the entire property to allow integration between the farm site and social activities and events.

If you are located in British Columbia, I would highly advocate to check out Persephone Brewing Company yourself, to see the future of culinary advancements in semi-rural and small town areas.

Saks 5th Avenue Restaurant Concept Opens in Toronto

Saks Fifth Avenue had been a long time coming for the City of Toronto, opening earlier this year to much fanfare within The Bay at Eaton Centre.  They have now opened a flagship 3-storey restaurant called Leña.  According to Retail Insider,  Leña has a 70-seat lounge on the lower level, a 96-seat dining and bar area and 86-seat formal dining room on the main level, and a 44-seat private dining room on the top level.  The culinary concept is catered towards South American cuisine.


Central Bar – Imaged credited to Retail Insider


Main Dining Room – Image credited to Retail Insider

What is even more exciting is that later this year, Saks Fifth Avenue will be opening a 25,000 SF “Saks Food Hall” in the same department store.  Together with Leña, Saks will be well positioned as a Culinary Oriented Development.  Saks already opened a Food Hall al their Sherway Gardens location in Toronto earlier this year, and has been met with positive reviews.  The 18,500 SF food hall on gourmet ingredients to purchase and take home, along with prepared grab and go food, and food stations.  All Saks Food Hall’s are operated by Pusateri’s, a local Toronto gourmet grocery chain that focuses on fresh produce and high-end international ingredients. The Sherway Gardens location of the Saks Food Hall is quite spectacular in design, so I can’t wait to see how the downtown flagship location will look.

Combining a 3-storey flagship restaurant and 25,000 SF food hall is displaying the importance of culinary endeavors to the luxury department store chain, and how they see market demand increasing in the future.


Creative Placemaking has Parallels to Culinary Planning

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) ran an article yesterday on Creative Placemaking through an interview with Juanita Hardy.  When asked about Creative Placemaking, Hardy gave a very thorough and enlightening reply.  Her discussion of employing arts and culture for community revitalization is similar to what I have been exploring within many of my posts and research for Culinary Planning.  She even mentions chefs and food producers as a vital element to the arts and culture mix when conducting a neighborhood revitalization.  This is of course completely true, many neighborhoods begin to see revitalization with the introduction of artists spaces, galleries, fabrication of goods, designers, incubators, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.  The revitalization’s that are successful include the involvement of the local community.  A selected piece of her interview:

“It’s a question being asked a lot these days, with cities and communities trying to find new ways to redevelop blighted or underperforming neighborhoods and spark economic activity in more inclusive ways. Certainly, the idea of placemaking isn’t a new concept to ULI members and, in fact, creative placemaking is something that quite a few members have already incorporated into their projects without perhaps calling it by this name.

It is important to note that the project is focused on using creative placemaking in communities in need of revitalization. In this context, creative placemaking has three distinguishing features. The first is that arts and culture are key components of a redevelopment effort, whether a single building or a large neighborhood revitalization project. The place that you are creating is arts- and culture-driven. The second feature is that artists—visual artists, performing artists, musicians, writers, poets, and even chefs or food producers—are involved in creative thinking about the project and engaging residents. This, of course, is in addition to the architects, designers, and other creative fields within land use and real estate. Finally, creative placemaking is noted for its inclusive approach and emphasis on equity. Any creative placemaking project in an area targeted for redevelopment should involve all the stakeholders—particularly existing residents and businesses—so that the redevelopment plan reflects the culture of the people who live and work there and helps to ensure that displacement does not occur.”

I for one am a big believer that it is culinary endeavors that can really push a revitalization over the edge, since food and beverage are all-encompassing, they have a direct effect on all residents and families.  This can be the introduction of a local grocery store or farmers market in what was previously a food desert, or a food hall + culinary school and incubator space to provide education and entrepreneurial opportunities for the local community.

Of course every neighborhood is different.  The introduction of the wrong uses can be a detriment and failure for revitalization that will reduce placemaking.  Successful case studies display that unique and bold ideas that come from a grassroots level can make a difference between the success and failure of revitalization.  And it is not always about the primary uses that are implemented, but the interstitial  spaces that really harness the community.  What happens between the grocery store and urban farm, or incubator hub and food truck lot are just as important.  I like to call these areas the “connective tissue” since they are really connecting the bones of a community.  It could be as simple as a well planned seating area, or a stage that is programmed on a daily basis, or a pocket park.

This is what placemaking is all about; ensuring that the interstitial spaces are thought about just as much as the culinary anchors for successful revitalization.