In 1917 Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, CA opened on Broadway in downtown and served as a main place for companies along the business and entertainment corridor to obtain a meal from local vendors. It’s been over 100 years and it still reflects the changes to the populations of the downtown area. This collaboration of vendors made up of florists, butchers, fishmongers, bakers …etc, are now what we call a food hall.
Whether you choose to call it a market place, a bazaar, or social gathering spot, food halls have become an effective way for those in the food industry to work together to engage more with the communities they are in. Unlike any fad venture that is short-lived and novelty driven, businesses creating a market type collaborative maintain a longer life span, and only get stronger over time.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s, my parents would often take us downtown to shop for school clothes and things for the house. I remember that as a kid, it seemed every building was a towering structure that I would strain my neck in an effort to see the top. There were vendors always selling postcards, clothing, and other touristy trinkets. But I believe our excitement as children grew as we stopped in Grand Central Market after shopping the majority of the day.
The scent of fish, meats, and of different vegetables within the market place was fascinating! Yet nothing could compare to the food that was being prepared with ingredients being exchanged between vendors. Mexican, American, Chinese cuisines. Some foods that I’m certain my parents weren’t familiar with. But often times we were there because particular spices or ingredients for a dish they were about to make, couldn’t be found at the grocery store and only found there. We were always glad when Mommy and Daddy were ready to leave though, because it was our chance to get a taco, a doughnut or some ice cream. Being there made you feel like you were involved with the downtown vibe. There was always some new food to see or aroma that made you hungry.
Even though it’s origin was not American based, the concept has truly taken hold. Vendors of these food collaborations are focusing not only on providing familiar and unique foods, but offering someplace where people are able to gather together in a social setting, building relationships, and where community and cultural events may be attended. We see the success in this concept with the establishing of Midtown Global Market in 2006, which has become a place that culinary flavors from across the globe can be found.
Still, the interest for these types of collaborations is growing. The Lowertown neighborhood of St Paul welcomed Market House Collaborative with vendors such as Peterson’s Meats (butcher), Salty Tart (pastries), and Octo Fish Bar (seafood). In the upcoming new year, watch for the opening of new food halls like Keg and Case in the Schmidt’s Brewing building in St Paul, and Malcom Yards Market in the Prospect Park neighborhood.
Want to visit a casual place that has a collective of food professionals creating dishes for a market-inspired café? Check out the Lynhall (www.thelynhall.com) where you can get rotisserie meats, baked goods, coffee, or even learn to make a specific dish. On my recent visit I thoroughly enjoyed the Pork Belly Benny (pictured) and their Tres Leches Cake. The eggs benedict style included a melt in your mouth savory slice of pork belly, with a corn salsa or slaw. I saw this beautiful pastry within their display by the register and indulged a bit. It was moist, with whipped cream dollop peaks all in different colors, and garnished with what seemed like salted-caramel pearls. Great place to people watch or make a new friend as you dine at one of the many long communal seating areas.