Comment: The shape of culinary things to come

Gates Hospitality chief executive and founder Naim Maadad discusses the rise of food halls

Naim Maddad
ITP Media Group
Naim Maddad

A food hall in the United Kingdom is "a large section of a department store, where food and drinks are sold". Unlike food courts made up of fast food chains, food halls typically mix local artisan restaurants, butcher shops and other food-oriented boutiques under one roof. Food halls can also be unconnected to department stores and operate independently, often in a separate building.

What was an innovative concept in 2011, Food Halls slowly became a trend in six years down the road. Today the food hall trend continues to rise – and soon becoming a phenomenon. To a certain extent, food halls have served as a catalyst to the retail growth journey, a means for revitalising erstwhile storefronts and breathing new life into outdated shopping centres.

“Food halls are ultimately providing a refreshed way of thinking about American urbanism by looking abroad,” said Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. In many ways, they are taking a cue from marketplaces in Asia that have long flourished from shelling fresh street food from local vendors.

The rise of food halls in many ways mirrors that of food trucks, transforming cars and storefronts into bastions of creative and innovative culinary experimentation. Both have played a key role in helping to spotlight emerging talent and introduce new styles of food, while also appealing to consumers by offering high-quality cuisine at effective prices — a critical part of what helped the food truck movement explode during the height of the recession.

Contrary to popular belief, it certainly appears something that can please all the people, all the time has finally arrived and is here to stay: the new generation of food halls making their presence felt across the globe, re-defining both the retail industry and restaurant business.

A couple of centuries ago, food sellers and pushcarts crammed city streets, turning them into crude food bazaars with barely enough room for people to walk. Then came the one-stop shop mercantile stores, grocers, supermarkets, mass merchants, mall food courts and the ultimate expression of mobile food business namely the creative food trucks.

All these have contributed significantly to the rise of food halls — often considered the next big step in the evolution of the restaurant business. They are professionally managed by entrepreneurs, celebrity chefs and some of the most creative next-generation chefs, and are turning what was once an urban phenomenon into a global trend with everything from comfort foods to gourmet fare worthy of any chic branded restaurant.

Food halls are fast becoming a favourite amongst mall operators and real estate developers who see them as a part of an experiential retail strategy, and among culinary connoisseurs who are more frequently eating out more than ever before and definitely want to devour authentic dishes to satisfy increasingly sophisticated taste buds.

A report on 2018 retail trends by FGRT noted that malls have already evolved into food destinations, and food halls — rather than the typical food court — will drive more consumer traffic and offset the effect of store closings.
“Food halls are not just upgraded food courts, but spaces that offer products made by local artisans, food-oriented boutiques, butcher shops and … interactive elements such as entertainment and classes,” the report said.
The food hall expansion is one reason for a decline in exclusive shopping centres. In fact, an increasing number of mall operators are considering food halls as anchor tenants to fill big box spaces.

The definition of what constitutes a food hall is still a matter of debate, but it is generally accepted that the “foodie culture” — including the farm-to-fork and slow food movements — is largely responsible for kickstarting the modern food hall concept.

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