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


Kimbal Musk Taking a Leap with Urban Farming

Urban farming seems to be a hot trend over the past year.   And you know the concept has some traction when one of the infamous Musk brothers is attempting to capitalize through a business venture.  Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla and SpaceX’ Elon Musk is attempting to start-up an urban farm and incubator hub called “Square Roots”.

According to an article from Inc. Musk is setting up the urban farm prototype in Brooklyn, New York, and he hopes to roll it out across North America if it proves to be a successful model:

Each food entrepreneur will have access to a mini farm the equivalent of two acres of land, but the gardens are built vertically in a shipping container, taking up less than 320 square feet. They are climate-controlled and hydroponic, allowing for a year-round growing season using 80 percent less water than an outdoor farm.

“The aim with the campus is to create an environment where entrepreneurial electricity can flow,” says Peggs.

Entrepreneurs will be trained to grow hydroponic, non-GMO food year-round and sell it locally, assisted by technologies like Freight Farms–which makes tools for fresh food production–and ZipGrow–which facilitates vertical farming. Musk hopes to roll this model out to other cities, saying each campus can contain between 10 and 100 farms.

The overall idea is that Square Roots will allow entrepreneurs to develop their vertical farm start-up into an actual business within the incubator space.

I know many urban farms that have started up in previously used industrial buildings, harnessing the large warehouse areas for hydroponic farming, but this is one of the first large-scale endeavors to grow produce in shipping containers.  The containers will be located within an old Pfizer factory in Brooklyn.  With such a large glut of shipping containers in North America (due to higher volumes of imports than exports), this makes a great re-use of the containers.   I do wonder whether the shipping containers could be located outside, or they are required to be within an industrial building.  We have already seen shipping containers used as housing and shopping spaces, but urban farming seems like a logical choice if you can properly maintain the temperatures required.

Combined with his previous venture of a farm-to-table restaurant, it seems that Kimbal Musk is attempting to become to food sustainability, what his brother is to cars and space exploration.

Square Roots Urban Farm - Imaged credited to BusinessInsider

Square Roots Urban Farm – Imaged credited to BusinessInsider


Shipping Containers and Food Halls

One of my favorite spots to eat when I visit Toronto is not along trendy King Street West or the St Lawrence Market neighborhood, but at Market 707 along Dundas Street.  An initiative of the Scadding Court Community Centre, Market 707 has been operational for approximately 5 years now.

A “food pod” of sorts, the street food and retail market is housed entirely in retrofitted shipping containers that have been placed in front of the community centre.  The 10 individual containers provide affordable space for entrepreneurs who do not have the financial capacity to open a full-scale brick-and-mortar restaurant.  A wide-range of ethnic choices are available at Market 707, from French to Filipino to Atlantic Canadian.  Having tried most of the them while I lived in Toronto several years back, I commit to visiting Market 707 every time I am back in town. (If you only have the appetite for one vendor, I recommend the crepes and poutine at NomNomNom).


Market 707 at Scadding Court – Image Credited to BlogTO

Market 707 has also played a big part of revitalizing a tired part of Dundas Street West, where there has been limited foot traffic and commercial streetfront presence.  Market 707 has been able to create a very important pedestrian link between the Dundas St and Bathurst St node, and the ever-popular Kensington Market which is only a few blocks east. As the market has grown, new non-food vendors have also been added into the mix, such as jewelry, fashion, and a bike-repair shop.  Thinking outside the box (pun intended) has allowed Scadding Court to create a vibrant community hub in an area that was very underutilized.

More information from the Scadding Court website:

In response to community feedback, a desire for broadened local employment opportunities and an emerging redevelopment vision, SCCC developed an outdoor market along the Centre’s Dundas Street frontage. Attractive, colourful salvaged shipping containers retrofitted by Storstac now form the basis of a vibrant outdoor neighbourhood market that uses business and community economic development to animate the streetscape, link the surrounding neighbourhoods, generate jobs and revitalize an underutilized area of the City. Market 707 is ideal to start up your business, located in the up and coming Dundas Street West neighbourhood, between Kensington Market, Queen Street West and Chinatown.

If Market 707 and the famous food pods of Portland are the originals, the next generation of shipping container culinary oriented developments is beginning to hit the scene.  Detroit Shipping Co. is in the process of breaking ground on a food hall made almost entirely of retrofitted shipping containers.  It is planned to have five eateries, beer garden, two bars, galleries, pop-up stores, and a live-music space.  Food, art, and music seem to be hugely popular themes that are being placed together to create unique one-of-a-kind developments throughout North America.

The architectural renderings look great, and because the entire development is modular, construction is planned to last only 3 to 4 months which is of course much less than a typical development.  All operators are planned to be local entrepreneurs.  I’ll make sure to provide updates once the project is complete, which is expected to be late in the fall if everything goes according to plan.

Detroit Shipping Co. 5_eater

Detroit Shipping Co. – Image credited to