business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Interesting piece the other day in the Wall Street Journal about how some New York City restaurants, faced with unsustainable rent increases, are abandoning the traditional restaurant model and embracing the food hall concept as a place they can continue to operate and grow their brands. In some cases, “it has become an increasingly common strategy for well-established restaurants looking to expand their footprint. In such cases, they aren’t shutting down their original locations, but simply building upon them with food-hall satellites.”

This approach, the Journal suggests, “marks a radical rethinking of the food hall, a dining concept that, at least in its infancy a few years ago, focused on upstart brands looking to introduce themselves to New Yorkers without initially committing to opening a storefront location. The food hall was, in effect, a food incubator. Now, the food hall is increasingly about operators who have already built their brands.”

I’m intrigued by this, in part because I think that terrific supermarkets can actually use the food hall concept as a creative touchstone as they develop their own fresh food footprints.

We’ve seen this approach developing for a long time. In a lot of ways, the food truck outposts that we see in so many cities are nothing if not outdoor food halls, offering a broad range of options that can entice and delight patrons.

A couple of years ago, I did a FaceTime piece from Smorgasburg, a wonderful food festival that takes place every Saturday (though not during the winter) in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, right on the banks of the East River. Again, just a food hall without the walls and ceiling.

Really great food stores - Dorothy Lane Markets, the fresh food sections at Wegmans, for example - have a food hall vibe … they speak of possibility, of adventure, of catering to customers’ gastronomic curiosities. More than ever - especially as competition becomes tougher, and retailers seek ways to compete with business behemoths and online disruptors - I think that celebrating food and mimicking a food hall approach can be a compelling, differentiated and even Eye-Opening approach.
KC's View: