If you follow food news trends, you’ve likely heard the word food hall bandied about a lot lately. Inspired by British businesses, think Fortnum & Mason or Selfridges, the food hall is, as you would expect, a department store filled with provisions. At Harrods in London an entire floor is dedicated to gourmet shopping with everything from luxury cheeses to giant bread displays with every kind of loaf imaginable. Now catching on in America, the idea has sparked a rash of spaces like Atlanta’s Ponce City Market where the second Minero just opened and Anthony Bourdain’s future Pier 57. But Butcher & Bee owner Michael Shemtov’s latest project, opening at 1505 King St. in the upcoming Pacific Box & Crate space, is, he says, something else entirely.
Don’t call it a food hall. That’s the message I left with after interviewing Shemtov about his new food ha… well, let’s call it a “concept.” “It’s more like a fancy food court,” Shemtov told me. Potato pohtato? Nope, turns out there is a difference.
A fancy food court may conjure images of a 1980s mall, but eave your visions of Orange Julius and Panda Express behind. What Shemtov and project manager Jonathan Ory have in mind is an edibles incubator.
Inside the 10,000-square-foot space, Ory, the former owner of Chicago’s acclaimed Bad Wolf Coffee, will not only run his own Charleston version of Bad Wolf (complete with his signature pastries) but will also manage six vendor spots — small restaurant spaces with two kitchens.
The idea is to give up-and-coming business owners — food trucks, pop-ups — a brick-and-mortar option without the risk, while also offering veteran chefs a place to try new things. And the better the renters do, the better for all parties involved. Instead of an up-front rental fee, Shemtov’s B&B Management Co. will collect a percentage of sales from the tenants to cover its lease and the day-to-day costs of things like electricity and water to operate the space.
Chicago’s Fat Rice is the first confirmed tenant and a big one at that. In 2013 Fat Rice owner Abe Conlon’s Portuguese/Chinese fusion restaurant featuring Macanese food made it to No. 4 on Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant list. So why open a small outpost in Charleston? We called Conlon to find out, but his publicist told us the chef was on a research trip in China because, well, of course he is.
It’s easy to see why a local, say Short Grain food truck, might be interested. Butcher & Bee has collaborated with the mobile Japanese outfit before and Shemtov says they’re the kind of business he’d like to see in the food court. “It will allow something like Short Grain to have a place to make their food if they were looking to open a restaurant,” he says.
Short Grain’s co-owner Corrie Wachob says they’re definitely considering the space. “There’s a lot that appeals to us like the use of a shared kitchen which isn’t exciting to consumers, but to us sounds great,” she says. “We also like the idea of it constantly fluctuating with new people. We get bored pretty easily and it would be great to have a place to play there.”
Asheville and Atlanta’s Farm Burger is also interested, but the court won’t be limited to multi-city businesses. Shemtov says that he’d love to see someone like The Ordinary’s Chef Mike Lata sign a short lease just to try something new. “I’d love it if he just did lobster rolls for a month,” says Shemtov.
The renters will be constantly evolving, though Ory and Shemtov agree that if they hit on a winner, there’s no reason a business couldn’t sign a longer lease. And while all these vendors are circulating in and out of the property, Ory will be there to spot-check. Ory will be be what Shemtov calls the majordomo of the food court.
“All of the tenants we bring in will be well qualified, but I’ll be there to help out where I can,” says Ory. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people to show off their talent and see how their concept works in real life before investing all this money it takes to have their own brick and mortar. We have the best kitchen I’ve ever seen, all the fees and permits are paid, people signed on and are ready to go.”
So who will be dining in a food court located way up on King Street Extension? Enter: BoomTown. The real estate web platform is relocating its office to Pacific Box & Crate so right there B&B Management Co. has built-in diners. Add to that the other confirmed by but not-yet-announced tenants, and Shemtov and Ory believe they’ll have no trouble keeping their fancy food court busy.