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Cool Streets Food Halls Edition: San Francisco

By Rhonda DiazCaldewey


The story of San Francisco’s love affair with food is one deeply steeped in the city’s history.  It’s undeniable that our iconic Ferry Building set a new benchmark for a nationwide movement centered on how food fosters and facilitates community, and the story of its revival and renovation is truly one of the city’s great real estate success stories.

Historically, the Ferry Building was San Francisco’s focal point for anyone arriving by train or ferry: from the Gold Rush until the Great Depression, it’s estimated that 50,000 people commuted into San Francisco by ferry each day.  But the rise of the automobile (and the opening of the nearby Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge) changed all that, and by the late 1950s, the Ferry Building had fallen into disrepair. In the 1980s, port officials raised the idea of renovating the space, but couldn’t do so without using public funds, an unpopular proposition in the midst of a recession. In 1989, however, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the freeway that had been built above the Ferry Building, and two years later, the freeway was completely dismantled, sparking renewed interest in creating an iconic public space on San Francisco’s waterfront.

Developers Christopher Meany and William Wilson secured a long-term lease from port officials to renovate the building, and in 2003,  it reopened to the public. Now, 14 years later, the Ferry Building is considered the gold standard in showcasing how great spaces promote community gathering and engagement. The meticulous attention to detail on this long-abandoned structure brought out its soul and it now serves as a regional magnet housing and epic gathering place. Whether you’re just strolling to take in the colors and people watch or attending an educational event, or you’re a chef picking up seasonal ingredients, there is a camaraderie in spirit in supporting producers and artisans in a local environment.

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The long-term success of the Ferry Building has been instructive for other food hall concepts cropping up around the San Francisco Bay Area. From baby boomers to millennials, consumers are looking for organic, hand-crafted, artisanal, and locally-produced fare, and the opportunity to enjoy affordable, chef-driven street food in a casual environment with common seating tables is hard to beat. And from a purveyor’s perspective, the food hall environment allows many chefs wanting to highlight a signature dish, as well as other  new food concepts, the opportunity to test the market without the extraordinary investment of a traditional restaurant. With instantaneous feedback a concept can quickly adapt.

In the future, we expect food halls to continue to evolve by creating magical experiences for consumers not only through cafe concepts, but by incorporating gardens, nurseries, and artisan home and art products that keep customer experiences exciting and enticing. The preference for shopping and dining in these environments continues to gain momentum. We’re already seeing retailers and purveyors adapt the trend outside the confines of the traditional food emporium: food truck events and adapted retail container parks are great examples. Our food truck collections are roving outdoor food halls, and have replaced the family visit to the park on many occasions.

San Francisco is at the foundation of this ever-evolving trend. Consumers here are embracing the traditional marketplaces that have been a part of European culture for hundreds of years, and we at Cushman & Wakefield are at the cutting edge of servicing the innovative developments in this space.

Learn more on San Francisco Food Halls by clicking on the link below!


Diaz Caldewey-Rhonda 

Rhonda DiazCaldewey is a Managing Director, Retail Services for Cushman & Wakefield’s San Francisco office.

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