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Food Optional? Here's The Real Key To Success For Denver Food Halls


A diverse tenant mix and a slate of in-person activities helped keep Denver food halls afloat during the pandemic, with some coming out the other side in growth mode, while others closed their doors for good.

The food hall concept exploded in Denver before the pandemic, with new locations popping up all over the metro area. But Covid-19 cast a pall over the use of shared spaces and placed restrictions on restaurants that cut into profits and held down sales.

Add to this mix increasing costs and a difficult labor market, and food halls in Denver had a complex set of hurdles in front of them as the pandemic seems to subside.

Some didn’t make it.

Broadway Market, for example, closed its doors permanently earlier this year after a rocky road through the pandemic years, closing temporarily along with other establishments in early 2020, partially reopening, then closing again and finally calling it quits, with its landlord blaming Covid.

But others were able to get back on their feet and are ready to thrive in the new world with lessons they picked up during the trying last two years.

Stanley Marketplace was one of Denver’s earliest food halls, opening in late 2016 in a building that formerly housed the manufacturing operations of Stanley Aviation. The 1950s-era building came with generous outdoor space and an industrial vibe that went along perfectly with the adaptive reuse trend that was overtaking Denver at the time.

The Stanley, as it is commonly known among locals, exercised its connections, its existing popularity and the benefits of its site to hold its ground during the pandemic, General Manager Ally Fredeen said.

Leveraging two of these at once, the Stanley in 2021 hosted the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra for outdoor concerts, allowing people to take food purchased from the stalls inside the hall and enjoy it in the relative safety of the outdoor air while enjoying live music, something that was sorely missed during the depths of lockdown.

Farmers markets and puppy yoga were on the agenda as well, keeping crowds coming to the Stanley, which is located somewhat off the beaten path on the border of Denver and Aurora. Plus, the incorporation of things like touchless water bottle filling stations or QR code menus for all of the restaurants posted outside for takeout orders helped customers feel comfortable doing business there, Fredeen said.

And, as with most things in real estate, diversity proved to be a key contributor to Stanley’s push through the pandemic. It’s a bit of a misnomer to refer to the Stanley as a “food hall,” because of the mix of tenants in place there. In addition to food purveyors, the marketplace includes a daycare, a yoga studio, an Apple service provider and even a dentist. 

“Diversity of tenants is absolutely a contributing factor, especially from the personal services that were deemed necessary,” Fredeen told Bisnow.

The presence of other businesses that were under less stringent — or at least different — restrictions than the restaurants allowed the Stanley to keep bringing in people no matter what the latest edicts were from the government.

This dynamic is also on display at Edgewater Public Market, which opened just months before the onset of Covid and today is abuzz with people perusing the menu at an empanada stand just yards from a bakery that hosts cake decorating classes and a store containing miles of brightly colored yarn for a new knitting project.

And the food hall trend keeps growing, in spite of the difficulties posed by Covid. In Boulder, Avanti opened its second location in October 2021, and Mark Shaker, co-founder of Stanley Marketplace, is planning a new food hall in Westminster.