Corktown could be an ideal breeding ground for an urban cuisine trend that relies on heavy foot traffic and a sense of community: food halls.
They are an evolution of the age-old public market model, where prepared foods mingle with fresh produce, meats, crafts and shared seating. They’ve already arrived — the U.S. had 118 food halls at the end of 2017. That number is expected to balloon to 300 by the end of 2020, according to a 2018 study of the trend by Chicago-based Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
New York City has nearly 30 open or planned, according to the report. But food halls and modern-style market concepts have more recently spread to Detroit. Now at least eight are in the works or under consideration for downtown, the city’s neighborhoods and the wider metro area.
“We could be talking about in six years’ time the (national) market size quintupling,” said Garrick Brown, national retail research director for Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate company an office in Southfield. “It’ll force the industry to define what this is, because right now it’s kind of the Wild West.”
The term food hall is increasingly meaning “a combination of prepared food vendors in a small space that share a large common space,” Brown said.
The definition overlaps with that of a food market, which generally offers more retail and nonfood shopping. Both are in the Cushman report.
This shared-space segment of the industry is ill-defined, but it’s thriving for a reason.
Halls and markets counteract some oft-cited restaurant industry pitfalls, according to the report and conversations with several operators. They give established and emerging chefs a more secure, less costly avenue for experimentation. And many offer educational services or act as incubator-style support systems.
They give diners choices. Unlike a traditional mall food court, though, they boast unusual concepts. Think cricket-filled tacos, nitrogen ice cream or sushi ingredients combined Chipotle-style. Design is paramount. Motivations are creativity and entertainment, over value.
Arriving in Detroit?
Michigan Central Station’s grand, 110,000-square-foot concourse doesn’t appear to have much in common with a commercial space a 13th of the size that’s planned for a development on the nearby Tiger Stadium site. But both the Corktown depot’s new owner, Ford Motor Co., and The Corner developer Larson Realty Group are eying food hall-style venues to help anchor their footprints along Michigan Avenue.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said in a previous interview that he imagines the redeveloped Michigan Central Station’s first floor as a walkable space open to the public, filled with restaurants, produce and retail. He told Crain’s he envisions the “market hall” as a gathering place similar to New York’s Hudson Yards and San Francisco’s Ferry Building — bustling complexes that include food halls.
“There’s no question in my mind that a project like that, the community, the campus at large, the whole Corktown community is a perfect example of where a food hall not only would be needed, but would do well to serve that community …” said Nicholas Giammarco, creative principal for Birmingham-based Studio H2G. The design firm has worked on food halls in Europe, Texas and Illinois. It’s also in talks for a downtown Detroit hall that would be announced in about a year.
Bloomfield Hills-based Larson Realty’s $30 million mixed-use building will have an approximately 8,000-square-foot, window-lined corner space that could take shape as a food market/hall, Larson Realty President and CEO Eric Larson said. A single restaurant or bodega are also possibilities.
According to Brown of Cushman & Wakefield, this is how shared food spaces will take shape in the city’s downtown and neighborhoods. He said developers of office and residential buildings often increase tenant interest when they anchor their projects with food halls. In urban areas with intersecting transit (a challenge for Detroit), they flourish.
“You gotta have the right amount of density, because for these things to be profitable, they have to have heavy foot traffic,” he said. “But I’ve seen a number of office developers where typically their ground floor rent … I’ve seen them dropping (ground floor rent prices) for the right food hall operation, because it drives up the rents they can earn upstairs.”
Other examples are cropping up in Detroit, from Pittsburgh-based food hall concept creator Galley Group’s incubator space set to open downtown in the fall to Detroit Shipping Co., a food hall and gathering spot set to open July 23 in the city’s Cass Corridor. Several more are under consideration or planned.
Two successful markets outside the region say they’ve seen recent interest from metro Detroit-based parties looking to learn and replicate.
One of those is the 5-year-old Grand Rapids Downtown Market, which has seen rising sales as it helps restaurant startups through a variety of food-business support concepts. It has a public market with food-stall vendors, an incubator space and a teaching kitchen, said Mimi Fritz, its president and CEO.
The other is the 30-vendor, decade-old Chicago French Market owned by Sebastien Bensidoun. He said he’ll be watching Detroit with interest.
“I think the momentum is just going to continue to accelerate (in Detroit),” Brown said. “The tricky thing is … getting enough people in one spot to really be able to justify more food halls or bigger food halls. I think that’s still a work in progress in Detroit, but it’s coming.”