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Public Consumption: San Francisco Gets on Food Trend as Old as Civilization 

Tuesday, Oct 28 2014
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These market stalls require less startup capital than a food truck, but they also require vendors to be tethered to one location. And then there's the fact that they're competing with all the other businesses in the market for customers. "There's a real fear that we have internally about the quantity of competition and replication that I expect you will see in market halls soon enough," Zigas writes. "Will [people] spend enough on every ticket to have it make sense for the individual stalls?" They should if there's the right mix of vendors. The success and failure of these new halls, then, may have less to do with location and more to do with the vision of the market's curator. It could also be affected by who, exactly, these markets are for.

Proprietors of these food court-ish markets such as The Hall, 331 Cortland, Second Act Marketplace, and the name-TBD place in the Castro have designed their spaces for their vendors, and make money by charging rent, taking a cut of total proceeds, or both. This model works to help strengthen the brands of these smaller businesses, but it can also be a headache to manage and maintain quality control. That's why there's another, similar-but-different model emerging: the restaurant-in-grocery-store, championed by Whole Foods and Mario Batali's Eataly in New York, where all the different food stations are owned by the same executive chef and run out of a central kitchen. They're still offering the diner more options than a restaurant, but in a more streamlined way. And while these markets are ostensibly for the community at large, they will likely benefit the residents of the new condos above and around them the most.

The way Americans are dining out is changing. Prepared foods is the fastest-growing section of the grocery store, a sector that has grown 30 percent since 2008 and is expected to grow 10 percent more in the next 10 years, as opposed to the restaurant sector's measly 4 percent, according to Chicago-based research firm NPD Group. "Consumers are looking for convenient meal solutions and they don't necessarily want to cook," says Bonnie Riggs, NPD's food service analyst. "The prepared food being offered by these retailers is fresh, it's higher quality, there's variety, and it's very reasonable and affordable — more so than going to a restaurant."

This trend is what Chris Foley is banking on in the market hall he's building at 1355 Market, aka the "Twitter Building." The real estate investor, who has previous grocery experience as part-owner of the Canyon Market in Glen Park, is building a 22,000-square-foot grocery store and restaurant for the thousands of people who are estimated to live and work in mid-Market in the coming years. Market on Market will have some retail, but it will mostly be a place for people to gather at the sushi bar, the taco bar, the pizza bar, the wine and charcuterie bar, or the Malaysian noodle bar.

Though Foley and his team control the operations and the kitchen, he has hired small businesses from the community to join them. The sushi bar will be run by sushi chef Maka Sasaki, formerly of the Michelin-starred Maruya, for whom Foley is also building a small restaurant on Polk. Malaysian noodles will come from Azalina Eusope, an alum of incubator kitchen La Cocina. Like The Hall, he'll also have a few spots for small businesses looking to grow.

Market on Market will open in early December, but Foley is betting on its success: He's already signed a lease for a second market on Polk Street and a third in SOMA.

He'll have competition from restauranteur Tony Riviera, who is building his new Market Hall in the ground floor of the new Channel Mission Bay condo development. (You will have noticed by now that many of these spots have similar names — Market Hall, Market on Market, The Hall. In the same way that birds, bugs, and bats all developed wings separately but to serve the same purpose, these names, and the concepts behind them, all evolved from different origins toward a surprisingly similar endpoint. As such, their owners were often only vaguely aware of developments happening elsewhere.)

Market Hall will have local groceries as well as a "huge" prepared food section, an oyster bar, a wood-fired pizza oven, and a full-service restaurant — Riviera says that he knows the new condo dwellers will be his main customer base. "You walk into Whole Foods at 5, 6, 7 o'clock, you're not seeing people in the middle aisles anymore. People come into the market hall to get fresh soup that's made for them on a daily basis and pay very little attention to the other stuff," he says. Rivera is testing his idea here, but also plans to open more markets in Seattle, San Diego, and Dallas.

Whole Foods and others like it may be proof of concept, but the most successful and visionary extension of this form of food hall is Eataly, Mario Batali's massive Italian food hall in midtown Manhattan, which opened a second location in Chicago earlier this year. It has a half-dozen restaurants, wine bars, and a rooftop beer garden along with a prodigious Italian grocery section. Eataly is an experience, and an education in Italian food that just happens to also sell groceries. Many cite Batali and his creation as a model for their markets, but none have taken it to heart as much as chef/restauranteur George Chen, who is building a giant and ambitious Chinese market hall at Broadway and Grant in Chinatown.


About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.

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