Visit to Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh

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.

Smallman Galley2

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…

Smallman Galley3

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


Food Security and Food Halls

CityLab published an excellent article last week that discussed the Pizitz Food Hall and how it can assist in overcoming the food desert in downtown Birmingham.  I profiled the Pizitz mixed-use project  a little while back, with its culinary component being a food hall and restaurant incubator.  What I did not realize, are the surrounding issues that downtown Birmingham has faced over the past several decades with feeding its local residents.  The food hall, restaurant incubator, and a brand-new Publix grocery store located a few blocks away will remedy some of the concerns that people have faced with local food security.


Pizitz Food Hall – Image credited to Bayer Properties

My favorite part of the article is whether grocery stores or food halls can actually bring more awareness to eating healthy and local:

But will this crack downtown Birmingham’s food desert problem? There’s certainly excitement in Birmingham over these new arrivals, but researchers are “far from consensus” on how to alleviate food deserts, says Michele ver Ploeg, an economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. One commonsense approach is to give the green light to initiatives that aim to promote public health by bringing fresh and healthy food into a community at an affordable cost. Supermarkets are often the go-to intervention, since they tend to be fairly affordable and offer a range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

But the influence of supermarkets on healthy eating is less clear. In 2014, a study in Philadelphia found that increased access to grocery stores did not ultimately result in healthier eating habits; meanwhile, a study in Pittsburgh found that a supermarket did promote healthier eating habits, but not because people were actually shopping there. As Laura Bliss reported for CityLab, the entire neighborhood’s eating habits improved regardless of whether residents switched to shopping at the new grocery store.

Food halls play an even fuzzier role in eliminating food deserts, as a relatively new phenomenon that operates somewhere between a restaurant and a market. Ver Ploeg points out that restaurants may help fill gaps in a food desert, but their prices may curb accessibility for those in lower income brackets. Meanwhile, prepared foods are mostly not eligible for SNAP benefits. It’s worth noting, too, that many of Birmingham’s lower-income families now reside in neighborhoods outside of the downtown core, in areas that remain without either a grocer or a food hall.

There are no concrete answers from an academic point of view, but these are trends that are sometimes hard to quantify, especially since healthy eating habits can require a very long transition timeline.  What I do believe is that providing local residents with a wide-array of food choices along with proper education will ultimately be an added benefit to society, ultimately creating healthy and sustainable communities over the long-term.  Residents require choice.  Not just an organic produce market, and not just McDonalds, but everything in between.

I’m a big believer in the idea of a food hub, especially for cities that have to deal with large swaths of food deserts.  The concept that residents are able to learn, eat, and purchase good within the culinary realm, all in one place is highly important.  And much of the time, it won’t be induced by a grocery store moving into a neighborhood or a cool taco shop (as much as I love cool taco shops).  There needs to be a local grassroots component to increasing food access and healthy eating choices. Which is why in the case of Birmingham, it is great to see that REV Birmingham, an economic development agency is so involved in attempting to ensure that the food movement stays local, and for locals that require food accessibility, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Now, I understand that the idea of a food hub is just in its infancy and it is still very difficult to make sense of it from a financial sense for a private developer.  But the idea of a food hub that contains the components of a food hall, grocery store, education, food distribution, incubator, commercial kitchens, among other items is something that public officials should get excited about from a community building standpoint.  One way to counteract financial risk is to not have all components within one development.  We need to be INNOVATIVE.  What if a city planning department is able to create a new zoning typology where culinary-related land uses and developments are given preference and receive certain incentives?   Are there other policies out there that governments can take advantage of?

Getting back to Pizitz, I do think this is a great step in providing economic stability to an area that has obviously gone through great upheaval.  The addition of the food hall, incubator, and grocery store will add much needed vitality to a once struggling neighborhood that was considered a food desert.  Now lets see how it performs once it opens in December.



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

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

The 4 Food Hall Typologies

Two weeks back I conducted a Food Hall Demographic Analysis where I analysed the locations of 33 popular food halls in the United Sates.  I came away with an understanding that certain food halls prefer to locate in certain areas of a city.  The composition of these food halls are also different depending on their location.  After further research, I have aggregated food halls into four distinct typologies:

1) The Upscale Downtown Food Hall:  Examples: Chelsea Market, LatinCity, UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, Todd English Food Hall, The Plaza Food Hall, Revival Food Hall, Chicago French Market, Eastern Market.  The Upscale Downtown Food Hall is glitzy and modern.  It has large financial backing and is typically located in an architecturally historic building that is well-known with locals.  Food vendors are a mixture of popular upstarts and stalls run by famous chefs.  These food halls are located in major U.S. cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C.  The surrounding residential area is dense with higher-than-average income profiles  The Upscale Downtown Food Hall markets itself to high-income earning local residents, local employees for lunch and after work drinks, and a wide range of tourists.


Todd English Food Hall, New York City – Image credited to The Plaza NY

2) The Casual Downtown Food Hall: Examples: Pine Street Market, 4th Street Market, Ottenheimer Market Hall, Melrose Market, Grand Central Market, Market House @ Nashville Farmers Market.  The Casual Downtown Food Hall is similar to the Upscale Downtown Food Hall but more understated.  It is located in revitalized and renovated older buildings in the downtown core.  Financial backers are typically local investors.  These food halls typically are smaller in size with 8 to 20 vendors.  Food vendors are primarily upstarts or new concepts by popular local chefs and restaurants.  Many food vendors are those who have upgraded to their first bricks and mortar location, using the space as a business incubator. The surrounding residential area has below-average income profiles due to the socio-economic status of many local residents in a downtown setting.  The Casual Downtown Food Hall markets itself to local residents, local employees for lunch and after work drinks, and foodie tourism.


Grand Central Market, Los Angeles – Image credited to Bon Appetite

3) The Industrial Edge Food Hall: Examples: Krog Street Market, Union Market DC, Anaheim Packing House, Mercado La Paloma, Industry City Food Hall.  The Industrial Edge Food Hall is located on the periphery of downtown, where land uses are current or former industrial sites.  The neighborhood is “up-and-coming”, going through revitalization and gentrification with new business ventures, start-ups, and multi-family residential.  These food halls are typically located in repurposed industrial warehouses or manufacturing buildings.  The location allows rents to be cheaper than Downtown Food Halls, so food vendors are able to get in at the ground floor before being priced out as the area grows.  The surrounding residential area has below-average income profiles, but due to gentrification, this is continually changing as the area redevelops.  The Industrial Edge Food Hall can be seen as a catalyst for urban renewal in these areas.  It markets itself less to tourists than the Downtown Food Halls, and more to the local residential population and local employees.


Union Market DC – Imaged credited to

4) The Suburban Food Hall: Examples: Liberty Public Market, Central Food Hall @ Ponce City Market, Midtown Global Market, The Market Hall (Addison), Portland Mercado, Avanti Food & Beverage, East End Market.  The Suburban Food Hall is a trendy community hub, employing many characteristics of the other Food Hall typologies, but catering to suburban populations of major cities such as Dallas, Minneapolis, Portland, and Orlando.  It can be located in either a stand-alone building or a mixed-use development that incorporates residential, office, and education.  These food halls are located along major arterial roadways that have high visibility and traffic counts.  Due to their suburban nature, they require high parking ratios as the majority of customers will arrive by car.  Food vendors are a mixture of upstarts or new concepts by popular local chefs and restaurants.  The food vendors are supplemented by retail offerings and public markets.  The surrounding residential area is fairly low density in comparison to other Food Halls, but they are well established neighborhoods with many rooftops.  The Suburban Food Hall markets itself to local residents and a daytime workforce.



Portland Mercado, Portland – Imaged credited to Travel Oregon

I will be aggregating this Food Hall study into a full article that will be published in the next few weeks.

Have a good Labour Day long weekend!    

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.


Highly Anticipated Revival Food Hall Opens

Today was the big day in Chicago.  Revival Food Hall opened up in the historic National Building after months of anticipation.  I suppose I should be planning my next visit to Chicago soon….

The website Thrillist gives a pretty good rundown of many of the intriguing food shops that are at the 24,000 square foot Revival Food Hall on opening day.

Eater also conducted and released an interview yesterday  with the food halls masterminds, Craig Golden and Bruce Finkelman.  In regards to others starting up a food hall, Golden stated in the interview that “it’s not particularly a real-estate driven concept.  I know they’ll find challenges in a lot of different buildings with who they’ll put in and how they’ll make it work.”  Very interesting point, and very true.  It is not a simple retail store or office space that relies purely on real estate market forces.  Food halls are extremely specific, require highly-strategic layouts, a strong mix of vendors, connections with the local culinary community, a well thought-out business plan, proper marketing, and an accessible location among other items.

I look forward to reading about the feedback Revival receives over the next several weeks.


Revival Food Hall Opening Day – Image credited to Chritiques

San Francisco Food Hall Shutters its Doors

Even with the explosion of food halls throughout North America, not all are successful.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Second Act Marketplace in the Haight neighborhood has closed its doors after two-and-a-half years of operation:

Since the marketplace and adjacent events space replaced the movie theater in January 2014, owners Jack and Betsy Rix leased five kiosks to a rotation of local vendors. Within the past several months, however, there has been an exodus. Burma Bear, Crepe La Vie and Raw all departed in the spring; a new vendor, a Korean joint named Volcano Kimchi, was slated to open this month.

According to the Rixes, who also own the building, the final straw came last week, when Anda Piroshki decided to leave as well. Anda (pronounced “ai da”) has been a tenant since Second Act opened and is the last operating business in the market. Its owner, Anna Tvelova, told them that a rent increase in her commercial kitchen — unrelated to Second Act — was the reason for the shutdown, which will take effect Aug. 28.

Instead of undertaking the task of repopulating all five kiosks, the Rixes will close Second Act. The events space will remain open while they look for a new operator.

“Basically we had an amount of turnover that was unsustainable for us,” Betsy Rix said. “It was already getting difficult to find new tenants, and finding four to five tenants was not happening.”


Second Act Marketplace

Unfortunate that an early adopter of the Food Hall concept in San Francisco is no more, but there are some telling signs from previous tenants, with one stating that they just weren’t receiving the daily foot traffic required to run their business.  Location will always be key for a Food Hall or Marketplace, especially when they are attempting to establish themselves with a new concept.  Food Halls do best when they follow a certain criteria that includes:

  • Access to a consistant tourist base;
  • There is a strong mix of residential and office population in walking distance;
  • There is capacity in the Food Hall to have a critical mass of vendors who provide a wide array of food and drink;
  • Limited competition within the trade area;
  • Various modes of transportation (pedestrian, bike, transit, car).  Also, where are people going to store their bikes and cars while in the Food Hall?;
  • The vendors can be supplemented with other uses, whether it is retail, entertainment, recreation, etc.;
  • The space itself has to be welcoming from a design perspective, to allow people to flow through effortlessly from ingress to egress.