By Alan Napack
Senior Director – Retail Service Group – Americas
“Food Halls” has become quite the buzz word these days. So much so that we here at Cushman & Wakefield recently released a report examining the top food halls in America, and named New York City as Food Halls Capital of the World. One of the challenges, though, has been defining precisely what a food hall is. I don’t know that I have a complete answer to that, but I can at least shed some light on the history of this phenomenon.
The real genesis of the food halls concept comes from Harrods and other food halls found throughout Europe. But as far as the American roots, the history goes back to sometime in 2008. At the time, The Plaza New York on Fifth Avenue was having a bit of a retail problem. Its lower level retail space just was not succeeding. No matter who they leased the space to, it never seemed the right fit. It got to the point where you could have shot a cannon through and wouldn’t hit a single thriving retailer.
Around this same time, Todd English, whom I’ve known for some 20 years, and I began talking about how to bring something like this food hall concept to America. As with all great ideas, sometimes it’s about opportunity and need coming together at just the right time. The folks over at The Plaza were looking for a market/restaurant concept as an amenity to the multimillion dollar apartments they sold. We were discussing some other projects in the hotel when they showed us a storage space in the basement situated behind the existing retail. Ownership asked if we had a market concept that would work for this space. Todd and I had been working on a Food Hall concept that we had pitched to other developers years before. We shared our presentation with ownership and they immediately signed on.
Initially, sometime around 2009, we opened The Todd English Food Hall, in the 5,000-square-foot former storage room, which really was the first phase of the concept. I remember speaking with the ownership of The Plaza and telling them, “Soon enough, this will all be food.” His response was simply, “We’ll see.”
The Plaza recognized that Todd’s vision could help transform this into a true destination, and so he was asked to help them transform the remainder of the space. In the end, what we see today is a hybrid of what was initially envisioned and some new ideas that came about as we moved along. In many ways the final product has become something even better. And my prediction turned out to be true: for the most part, it’s all food.
Food halls, however they are defined, are certainly popping up throughout the country. We are getting calls from developers all over the world asking us to help them transform their spaces into food halls. Each one looks a little different. Each has its own personality. But it all began with Todd English’s Food Hall at The Plaza, which in my mind remains the standard bearer. For me, it’s the best in the city, hands down.
To read Cushman & Wakefield’s full report looking at the Top Food Halls of New York City, click here.
Mr. Napack has more than 35 years of experience in the real estate business. He has consummated more than one million square feet of leases nationally, representing both landlords and retailers. In addition, Mr. Napack redeveloped and managed several major retail and office properties in the New York Area. He has a broad based experience in the real estate industry and has excellent relationships with most of the major developers, Mall owners and retailers.