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From Meatpacking To Michelin Stars: Food Is Fueling Fulton Market’s Meteoric Rise


When Sterling Bay principal Jessica Brown started at the company about 10 years ago, Fulton Market looked completely different. Meat-packers sporting chicken juice-stained white lab coats roamed about. Blood literally flowed in the streets.

Brown avoided walking on the roads to get to work. 

Today, the neighborhood has transformed into a hotbed for Chicago’s top restaurants, drawing scores of foodies who want a taste and companies who see the area itself as a perk for employees. In Fulton Market, food is the built-in amenity that has helped make it one of the strongest markets for office and multifamily during the toughest time in recent memory for Chicago commercial real estate.

GI Stone's Sandya Dandamudi, Skender's Lauren Bauer, CRG's Alison Mills, Onni Group's Duncan Wlodarczak, Industrious' Marc Besteman, LG Group's Matt Wilke and The Emily Hotel Chicago's Zoltan Payerli

“Food is a theme of Fulton Market,” Brown said. “It’s the reason it's successful and always will be successful, and the foundation of what it was 10 to 15 years ago.” 

From its meatpacking roots to its current status as a high-end restaurant destination, the food scene is a critical component of the neighborhood, attracting talent to the area, panelists said at Bisnow’s Future of Fulton Market event Tuesday at 1045 on Fulton. 

The neighborhood features a host of top eateries, like Smyth, one of two restaurants in the city with three Michelin stars. Smyth was one of three American establishments named to the 51-100 list of this year's World's 50 Best Restaurants in May. Oriole, a contemporary American restaurant with two Michelin stars, also makes its home in the submarket. 

Paige O’Neil, president and managing broker at Shapack Partners, said the neighborhood leveled up from its start as a meatpacking hub to a home for some of the top-grossing restaurants in the nation because of its cheap initial rents before the neighborhood developed.

Restaurants came to Fulton Market to “be a destination,” O’Neil said. 

“We love to look at Fulton Market and how that has changed, but food has been at the core of that,” O’Neil said.  

The food scene continues to evolve in the neighborhood. Originally, most of the area's food options were exclusively high-end dinner spots, but the neighborhood has expanded to include a variety of cuisines for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all at a range of price points, Brown said. 

The next phase of the Fulton Market food scene may include big players from New York and international names.

Xfinity Communities' Walid Matarieh, Soho House & Co.'s Madison Perdue, Sterling Bay's Jessica Brown, Greenberg Traurig's Michael Fishman, Madison Rose's Adam Pines, Shapack's Paige O'Neil and Fulton St. Cos.' Alex Najem

“Food really does attract the talent, and that creates an environment on the streetscape that no other neighborhood can honestly compete with,” Brown said. 

In addition to Fulton Market’s strong restaurant scene — and maybe partially because of it — the area’s new office buildings have also outperformed other central business district submarkets. 

Fulton Market’s Class-A buildings command the highest rents in the CBD at $49.56 per SF, according to a first-quarter Transwestern Chicago office market report. The direct vacancy rate for that class of buildings is 8.4%, the lowest rate by a wide margin. 

Population growth on the Near West Side, which encompasses Fulton Market, exploded from 2010 to 2020. The area population sat at 67,881 as of 2020, a 23.7% increase from 10 years before, according to census data cited by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. The overall population growth in the entire city over the same period was just 1.9%.   

Thanks to its popularity, West Loop-Fulton Market continues to be the most active multifamily market in the city. Rental volume in the area increased from 525 units in Q1 2023 to 746 units in Q1 2024, according to a report from Luxury Living. Average gross rents also increased by 7.5%.  

“The amenity is the neighborhood,” said Duncan Wlodarczak, chief of staff at Onni Group of Cos. “At the end of the day, your buildings are going to have great offerings, but you have to embrace location. That’s real estate 101.”