Modern-day food halls: The heart (and stomach) of the new economy
While the food hall concept certainly isn’t a new one, the modern-day version is taking on an outsized role in the renovation and repositioning of today’s commercial buildings.
History of Food Halls
Dating back to ancient times, humans have congregated in a central place to socialize, trade goods and dine. The Agora of Athens is one of the oldest and most historically significant of its kinds. Over time, the concept of an open marketplace has evolved, with the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul being one of the world’s oldest indoor markets (well over 500 years old). The interdependent relationship of food and commerce further evolved through the proliferation of American department stores in the early 20th century. In Chicago, patrons at Macy’s could take a break in The Walnut Room or grab a bite at the ubiquitous lunch counter at Woolworth’s.
By the early 1990s, the food court (a collection of different fast food restaurants with shared seating) was an integral part of any enclosed shopping mall and eventually adopted by universities, airports and office buildings. The latest transformation has been the food hall, which is, typically, a collection of local artisan restaurants, butcher shops and other food-oriented boutiques under one roof. Today, Boston is witnessing explosive growth of the food hall, as today’s savviest landlords seek to differentiate their office buildings from competing product by offering unique and specialty foods, authenticity and entertainment.
Driven by Demand
One of the leading factors of the rise of food halls is the changing demand on behalf of the consumer. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, millennials spend 44 percent of their food-allotted budget on eating out, with 52 percent of adults seeking to try new cuisines. In addition, 61 percent of adults report that they would prefer to spend money on experiences, including eating out over purchasing a physical item from a store. Consumers are drawn to food halls for many of the same reasons dating back to ancient times: convenience, variety, speed and thrill of culinary browsing.
Perhaps the first and most well-known, Eataly opened its doors in November 2002 eventually expanding to more than 35 locations worldwide. The working concept was to gather high-quality food (prepared and ingredients) in one place that would allow patrons to eat, shop and learn. In April 2015, Boston Properties announced that Eataly would be replacing the existing food court in the Prudential Center in Back Bay with 45,000 square feet spread over three floors featuring six restaurants, a rooftop grill, a brewery with a retractable ceiling and patio and a market offering more than 15,000 products.
Time Out Market
In October 2017, Samuels & Associates announced that the first floor of 401 Park Drive in Fenway was going to be the new home of a 25,000-square-foot Time Out Market, a one-stop shop with 15 eateries, two bars, a demo kitchen, a retail shop, art and music. The curated mix will showcase some of Boston’s most exciting chefs, including Tim Cushman and Nancy Cushman, the driving force behind O Ya and Hojoko; Tony Maws of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap and Trotter; Michael Schlow of Tico and Alta Strada; and Peter Ungár of Tasting Counter. Boston will be Time Out’s second location, after opening its first marketplace in Lisbon in 2014. By 2016, Time Out boasted more than three million visitors.
High Street Place
In July 2018, Rockpoint Group announced the creation of High Street Place in Downtown Boston, an 18,471-square-foot food hall that will feature a diverse blend of Boston’s culinary scene in a world-class architectural environment. High Street Place will connect two of Boston’s most iconic assets: the art-deco landmark 160 Federal Street and adjacent 100 High Street, which together will comprise 920,000 square feet of office and retail space along with ample parking. There will be more than 400 seats throughout the venue. The food hall will have entrances on both High and Federal streets, as well as connections to the lobbies of both office buildings.
The modern-day food hall represents an entirely new way for commercial landlords to utilize existing space and a lower-cost operating model with today’s most innovative chefs. Across the country, developers are integrating this profitable amenity to increase the quality of life for office tenants, residents and visitors alike. Food halls help to drive foot traffic and create an authentic vibrancy that is almost impossible to create otherwise. Looking ahead, the concept of the food hall will surely continue to change, but, with history as a guide, the integration of food, community and commerce will continue to be a cornerstone of modern society.