Culture Shift: Rise of Public Markets and Food Halls

March 12, 2016

5:00 pm

There used to be hundreds of public markets in NYC. Now there are none. There used to be 1,200 butchers in NYC, now there are…well I'm not quite sure the answer to that, but it's way less than 1,200. Post-WWII saw the death of public markets and specialty food purveyors and the rise of the one-stop-shop grocery stores that we've become accustomed to. But gradually, and thankfully, things are shifting back the other direction.

You can tell a cultural shift is beginning to take place when there's a panel at SXSW on it. Food Hall Nation: The Return of Public Markets was a discussion about the growth of food halls and the return of public markets to our urban ecosystems. The panel was moderated by Mike Thelin, Principal at Bolted Services, a consulting firm that spearheads partnership, positioning and business strategy for food-related projects in the festival, real estate and promotions space. The other members of the panel included Kim Malek, CEO of Salt & Straw, a Portland-based ice cream company, Shaheen Sadeghi, former president of Quicksilver and CEO of LAB Holdings, the developer behind Packing House, a food hall in Anaheim, and Stephen Werther, partner and CEO of Bourdain Market, Anthony Bourdain's public market concept that is being developed in NYC.

There were two messages that stuck out to me from this panel: 1. These new food halls and public markets are great spaces for food entrepreneurs to grow their businesses while keeping rent costs down, and 2. The food culture in the United States has been changing for a while and this is a powerful next step in the evolution.

Malek, who now has a Salt & Straw outpost in a food hall in Portland, likened the environment to an incubator. She is one of nine chefs who set up shop in the space and they have formed a community of innovation that learns from each other.

“I would almost call it a little incubator of our own because every chef that's opening there is doing something pretty singularly-focused and something that they also have never done before, so there's a lot of great exciting innovation going on,” said Malek

Werther spoke to how food culture, particularly fast food culture in the United States is different from the rest of the world and what Anthony Bourdain is trying to do to change it. The Bourdain Market will be a multi-cultural mix of high quality foods that people can enjoy at reasonable prices.

“He wants to take the experience that he has in a hawking center in Singapore, or in the huge public markets in Seoul or in a boqueria in Barcelona and mash them together in the big melting pot that is the city of New York,” said Werther.

Another positive impact from the rise of these food halls and public markets is the communities that are built up around them. Sadeghi talks about Packing House in Anaheim that he helped develop and how it's much more than just a place for people to eat. It has become a cultural center where people can listen to live music, hang out in a park, or participate in a community garden program.

There is so much potential for these kinds of food experiences in both cultivating local ecosystems and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation for people who may have great ideas surrounding food, but executing those ideas seemed far flung.

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Kristin is an aspiring entrepreneur who is enthusiastically navigating her way through the DC startup space. She has an unending passion for learning and is never satisfied with the status quo. During the day she is an ops, biz dev, and marketing maven for Fission Strategy