Commercial real estate developers should pay attention to the trend toward urban food halls packed with local restaurants, bars and cafés, urges Anthony Deen, creative director, branded environments, for CBX.
“The likes of Berg’n in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood; UrbanSpace in Manhattan’s Midtown District, and Ponce City Market in Atlanta are destination locations driving unprecedented foot traffic,” writes Deen, whose work as an architect and designer for the brand agency and retail design consultancy encompasses retail, hospitality, airport, and commercial projects. “This kind of diverse food hall model may be a perfect fit for developers seeking to adapt and reuse older retail big box spaces, warehouses and even factories.”
In the column (“From Food Courts to Food Halls”), Deen notes that the traditional mall, in particular, has lost its appeal amid resurgent interest in the authenticity, creativity, and vibrancy of Main Street and urban centers. “What can malls learn from cities, and specific to driving traffic, what can they learn from the communal spaces of the city to enhance their attractiveness to consumers?” Deen writes.
He says that The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English, located in Manhattan’s landmark Plaza Hotel, represents precisely the type of urban experience that offers potential lessons for developers. “The Plaza Food Hall turned the entire food court model on its head by offering a wide variety of well-prepared, interesting and enticing foods in one location,” says Deen, who is also an adjunct associate professor at Parsons School of Design, School of Art, Media + Technology.
Of course, some major landlords are already exploring elevated approaches to food that go beyond earlier moves to add quality inline or freestanding restaurants. Taubman Centers, for example, recently announced plans to include a food hall curated by celebrity chef Michael Mina, with as many as 18 different concepts, in its $500 million renovation of Beverly Center in Los Angeles, Deen notes in the column.
“The current food hall has much in common with the city’s traditional open-air market,” Deen writes. “It’s a modern take on an ancient urban model, one that offers the pride of local cuisine and the excitement of variety.”
The key to programming any successful public space, Deen adds, is to offer a mix and variety of relevant experiences. “That could mean locally sourced and artisanal foods, as in Philadelphia’s Reading Market or Cleveland’s Westside Market, or incubating new food offers and being able to rotate food offers in and out on a regular basis, as Brooklyn’s Threes Brewery does each month,” he says.
Whether revamping mall food courts or reimagining vacant anchor spaces, mall developers could draw on lessons learned from food halls, fresh markets, and other food-centric urban experiences. “Cities represent a resilient model that continues to succeed,” Deen writes in the conclusion to the piece. “Studying urban spaces and using this knowledge to enliven retail environments is an effective way to improve foot traffic and customer retention.”