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Food Halls the WeWork of restaurant biz, says celebrity chef Todd English

Calling them the WeWork of the food industry, celebrity chef Todd English warned food halls are not a magic elixir for struggling retail owners.

Without the right recipe, he said some of the hundreds of concepts already operating in the US could end up as “glorified food courts.”

“I don’t think that a food hall is a be-all answer because you have to have the right formula and be in the right location and they’re also changing,” said English. “I think you’re going to see a little bit of a fallout in some of them because some of them are glorified food courts with better options.”

The chef was speaking at an International Council of Shopping Centers panel at Baruch College where he was joined by Douglas Elliman retail chairman Faith Hope Consolo who attested to the rise in food hall popularity, but offered similar advice.

“It’s sometimes hard to define the true food hall and what is the food hall of today and the food hall of the future,” Consolo said. “I think it’s hard to define and you really really have to understand the concept.”
English, who is known for his Todd English Food Hall in the Plaza Hotel, said his company has been examining the trend and its hallmarks of success.

“Basically, if you look at food halls, it’s a WeWork model of this world, it’s a coworking space,” English said. “We’re starting to look at retail and the food halls in the that way and it has to be about more than just food.

“It has to be creative, different and there has to be another reason to go there. It’s not just another great turkey sandwich or croissant, or whatever the latest trend is, it’s something that brings people in.”

He said suitable platforms would allow a tenant to sign a short-term, three-month lease to see how they do and then decide if they want to renew or leave.

New York-based Craveable Hospitality Group, is developing its first food hall in Roseville, Minnestoa. Called Revolution Hall, instead of letting restaurants take individual spaces in a food hall, Craveable will be responsible for what restaurant goes in each of their kiosks. So far, they’ve enlisted a variety of concepts like Canal Street Noodle Co., PieCaken Bakeshop, Steel Tree Coffee for Revolution Hall that is expected to open by the end of the year.

Craveable president and CEO Stephen Goglia said, “We’re curating all of the tenants and if we really feel like a kiosk isn’t serving the community correctly, we can change that virtually over night if we decided to.”
Goglia said in other cases, the landlord would have to deal with a separate lease, figure out performance issues or find a new operator.

Revolution Hall will also share one prep kitchen, but the individual kiosks will ultiatemly serve the meal, and has an on-site management team.

While he’s confident in his model, Goglia admits there’s still some uncertainty in the food hall world.

“The definition of food hall is very ambiguous,” Goglia said. “I think there’s a wide variety of what a food hall is but I don’t think you can say it fits anywhere because you have to be particular about how you curate a food hall and how it fits into a market.”

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