NYC is known as one of the food hall meccas and it’s clear the trend isn’t going anywhere, Big Apple and beyond. The list of food halls just keeps growing. Back in June, DeKalb Market Hall opened its doors in Downtown Brooklyn and, in July, Brooklyn’s City Acres Market opened another location in Manhattan’s Financial District.
These food halls are flooded with a myriad of vendors from all over the city, and it may come as a surprise that most of them also run successful restaurants separate from their food hall station. As you’re strolling past each kiosk, figuring out what you’re in the mood for, are you ever curious about each vendor’s backstory? We’re diving into how some of these places juggle the two worlds of food hall and restaurant.
“A food hall is a great way to be able to quickly open a branch and allow for people to have another access location to try our food,” says Tali Vaknin, co-owner of the vegan and vegetarian sushi chain Beyond Sushi.
Vaknin and her husband run multiple Beyond Sushi locations, including a full-service restaurant in Midtown. Their foray into the food hall industry began at Chelsea Market and now the couple’s vendor has expanded to the new City Acres Market in the Financial District, an area they’ve “never tapped into.”
While there’s always a diverse crowd at every location, Vaknin says the type of customer does vary from place to place. Logically, people looking for a more sit-down space tend to gravitate towards their full-service restaurant. Chelsea Market draws more of a tourist crowd, while City Acres in the Financial District is mainly local New Yorkers working in the area.
But it takes a special type of team member to manage the typical food hall consumer, says Vaknin: those with the “great, bubbly, wonderful personality.” And why is this the case? It’s a position that’s perhaps more interactive than working in the restaurant.
“They go through an extensive training process just to make sure they have a really good sense of customer service and they’re able to draw people to our place within the market,” she said.
The menu across all of Beyond Sushi’s locations, including in both food halls, is the same. But there’s a unique factor that comes with being a vendor in a food hall: competition.
“Word of mouth is everything for us,” says Vaknin. “It’s about getting people to know about the brand and why they should eat at our location as opposed to the others.”
Despite this food hall competition, Maria Cano, owner of The Arepa Lady, says the reception at Dekalb Market has been “amazing” so far. The Queens-based Colombian restaurant made its food hall debut with Dekalb Market in June.
“There is such a good vibe in the food hall, it’s contagious,” she said.
But unlike Beyond Sushi, Cano had to significantly adjust her menu for their on-the-go clientele.
“Everything is quicker, and the only thing that has been difficult is making all the arepas,” said Cano. “In the restaurant, you have more options of food, drinks, and desserts. In the food hall, it’s just arepas so you need to have a lot of them.”
The decision to bring The Arepa Lady to Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market has exposed the place to a new crowd, says Cano. While the restaurant primarily housed people with a Colombian background, the vendor’s serving up arepas for people from all over.
An arepa (a corn pancake, sweetened or unsweetened) is a dish many aren’t familiar with, so making the transition from Jackson Heights into Brooklyn has given people a taste of the Colombian cuisine that they no longer have to trek to Queens for, says Cano.
“If people like them in Brooklyn maybe we can see a small sit-down restaurant in the future,” she added.
— Head photo: DayTripper 365.