By Gene Spiegelman
Vice Chairman; Head of North America Retail Services
One of the big topics of discussion in retail today is the emergence of food halls as the newest full-experience dining phenomenon. What began in Europe has now swept into the United States. Herein New York, it seems that a new food hall pops up every other day. In fact, in Cushman & Wakefield’s , we name New York City as the “Food Hall Capital of the World.” And it’s no surprise, because both their diversity and their quality of dining experience are unmatched.
But the other day as I was walking past the site of the old T.G.I. Friday’s inside Penn Station, something dawned on me: these food halls aren’t exactly something new. In many ways they are an evolution of the food court phenomenon developed by the iconic restaurateur Murray Riese, .
By the time Riese of Riese’s death, he and his brother Irving had built a massive empire, with food courts that were filled with T.G.I. Friday’s, Pizza Huts, Houlihan’s, Dunkin’ Donuts – all part of a conglomerate of more than 200 restaurants operated by the Rieses. These weren’t exactly places where you went for the “dining experience.” This was a time where getting lunch meant counter service at your local coffee shop, deli, or diner. You sat down, grabbed a sandwich, and moved along with your day.
Today’s food halls have taken an entirely different approach. I think in part this is because customer expectations have increased and the competition has just gotten stiffer. We’re in a time now where the high-end dining experience is expected. If you aren’t creating an experience-oriented atmosphere, then your business is going to suffer.
This transformation probably began with the Grand Central Market after its renovations were completed in the late 1990s. The market offers open spaces under that beautiful zodiac dome ceiling. Today it still offers some of the classic dining eateries, like Grand Central Oyster Bar, but it’s also home to some of the hottest new places like Shake Shack and Tom Collicho’s Witchraft.
As the food halls trend developed, each new food hall has become more and more sophisticated. Over at Brookfield Place, Le District and Hudson Eats have found that perfect balance between dining experience and food market. It’s one of the best examples of a modern food hall in all of New York City. After you browse through the market you can choose from a diverse array of high-quality food offerings, and then sit in the dining terrace with gorgeous views and elegant furnishings and finishes. You don’t just enjoy great food, you immerse yourself into an entire dining experience.
It’s true, all of this would seem entirely foreign to Murray Riese. But he really is the true trailblazer, and without the brilliance of his initial idea to bring varieties of dining choices under one roof, we likely would never have these wonderful selections of food halls today.
To download the full Food Halls of America report, click here.
Gene P. Spiegelman is Vice Chair and Head of Retail Services for Cushman & Wakefield. He has been involved in Commercial Real Estate for more than 20 years, with a focus on the urban, luxury, and specialty retail niche. He is a frequent contributor to various news publications and broadcast outlets, providing commentary and insight on retail industry trends and events.