Urbanspace Vanderbilt in New York City
By Molly Tow, Contributing Writer
Not too long ago, the phrase “food court” was somewhat of a pejorative. It evokes a sense of malaise – a necessary destination that follows a full day of shopping at the mall or deplaning after a long flight. But fast forward to present day and you’ll find that this concept has been reimagined and reclaimed, transforming the once-necessary evil into a hot destination for tourists and locals alike. Food halls feature stands from high-profile chefs and popular neighborhood go-tos, allowing consumers to experience their favorites in a new way. Food halls are now a nationwide sensation, and New York City is championing the trend. Gourmet and wide-ranging, these culinary meccas are proliferating at an astonishing rate in a city where space comes at a premium.
So what makes a successful food hall? While each food hall has its own take on the concept, it can be hard to discern which is worth exploring. These are some factors that can help a food hall stand out.
1. Variety of vendors
If there’s one thing New York foodies love and expect, it’s variety. People are quick to get sick of one thing and start fervently searching for the next “it” place. New York is the city of options, where you can find just about any type of cuisine served in myriad ways. The competition to attract customers is as fierce, so what better than to serve a double-decker variety sandwich? At the sprawling DeKalb Market Hall in Brooklyn, patrons take their pick from 40 vendors, such as the iconic Katz’s Deli, dairy experts Ample Hills Creamery, and Polish sensation Pierogi Boys. And if you feel like sticking around, DeKalb also offers live music in the evening and with a cocktail to supply libations.
2. Celebrity/high-profile chef involvement
New York is home to some of the world’s most talented chefs. Whether they work out of one famed eatery or a whole restaurant empire, the famous chefs that call New York home boast some of the city’s most popular destinations. One such chef is cult favorite Ivan Orkin of ramen fame. Profiled in the third season of the Netflix docu-series Chef’s Table, Orkin once did the unthinkable: he opened a ramen shop in a nondescript neighborhood in Japan, impressing millions of locals as an American chef, serving a traditional Japanese dish. While Orkin’s main restaurant is now Ivan Ramen, located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood, his more recent venture is Gotham West Market‘s Slurp Shop. Ramen shops are everywhere in NYC, and New Yorkers want the best.
Roberta’s classic Margherita pizza at Urbanspace Vanderbilt
3. Outposts of highly trafficked eateries
When a venue starts to gain momentum in NYC, a mass migration may follow. If you’ve spent some time walking the city, you’ll occasionally encounter staggering lines of hungry trend-spotters looking to get their tasty new fix. The con to this, of course, is wait time. Take Roberta’s, a walk-in only pizza joint in Bushwick, which has over 2,000 reviews on Yelp – many bestowing upon it the “best pizza ever” and “worth the hype” awards. The crowd-averse and the Brooklyn-averse (those people do exist) could rejoice, then, when Roberta’s opened a second output in Midtown East’s Urbanspace Vanderbilt.
4. Awareness of clientele
There are food halls all over the city at this point, but each pocket has its subculture. Capitalizing on niche tastes and particular customer preferences could help the food hall’s rise to prominence and future maintenance. For example, Canal Street Market in Chinatown is home to booths of many Asian-inspired vendors, such as Kuro-Obi – the fast causal iteration of giant Ippudo Ramen – and Nom Wah Kuai, the revival and tribute of one of Chinatown’s oldest dim sum eateries, Nom Wah Tea Parlor.
As food halls continue rapidly expanding across New York City and the United States, it’s safe to say they aren’t going away anytime soon.
Molly Tow is a New York-based writer, researcher, and meditation teacher. When she’s not studying the inner workings of the mind (psychology), you can find her studying all things food and beverage through pen and tongue. Molly got her start in food blogging in college when she started chronicling her quest to try all of the signature sandwiches at a popular Italian market in Morningside Heights. To follow her current consumption exploits, give her a follow on Yelp at https://mollytow.yelp.com and Instagram @mtow1016.