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Are Food Halls A Magic Elixir For Retail Owners?

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The concept of the food hall has taken deep root in U.S. retail properties, with scores up and running and hundreds in the pipeline. 

Eataly food hall

Though a popular addition for struggling retail properties, celebrity chef Todd English said that without the right approach, food halls are not always the solution for owners. English spoke at the recent Second Annual International Council of Shopping Centers-Baruch College Real Estate Conference, as reported by Real Estate Weekly.

He warned that some food halls are merely "glorified food courts with better options." He further called food halls a WeWork model, a kind of coworking space that "has to be about more than just food." 

Food halls are a draw because of their perceived authenticity, as local eateries, healthier options and craft breweries edge out standard food court fare (fast food, that is).

While not every food hall is going to feature chef-curated or otherwise expensive options, they have to be creative in some way, English said during the ICSC conference. "It’s not just another great turkey sandwich or croissant, or whatever the latest trend is, it’s something that brings people in.”

For retailers, a successful food hall is thus not a matter of simply setting up a food hall. With the increasing number of food halls, they too need to stand out to be competitive.

Industry City Food Hall, Brooklyn
Industry City Food Hall, Brooklyn, N.Y.

English is no stranger to the concept. Todd English at The Plaza — an upscale specialty food hall in New York — was designed by architect Jeffrey Beers to evoke specialty markets throughout the world, with mosaic marble floors, wood paneling, ceramic backdrops and stained-glass windows.

In Aventura, Florida, at Turnberry Associates' and Simon Properties' Aventura Mall, there is a dining concept curated by English, Figs + Mozzarella, as well as Michael Schwartz's Genuine Pizza and Sam Gorenstein's Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen. Along with various local options, these offerings came as part of a major renovation of the space into a food hall format.

"We canvassed the country looking for concepts," Turnberry Associates CEO Jackie Soffer told Miami New Times. "Part of it was partnering with award-winning chefs ... But we also wanted restaurants with an established buzz in South Florida."

There is no doubt that retail landlords are keen to have food halls in their properties. When Cushman & Wakefield first began tracking food halls in 2015, it found 70 projects across the U.S. 

That number had grown to 118 by the end of 2017. Based on under-construction and planned projects, Cushman & Wakefield's 2018 report projects there will be 180 food halls by year-end and 300 by the end of 2020. 

"Every landlord today is thinking about increasing the percentage of [gross leaseable area] to food," JLL President Retail Advisory Services Naveen Jaggi told CNBC, adding that the food court was "a precursor to having a food hall."