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‘Transcending trendiness’ — food halls aren’t going anywhere

Food halls have found a home in the Upstate, which along with a growing population, has a growing number of small businesses looking for affordable places to set up shop.

Trends develop to fill needs, and the trend in food halls — where several eateries co-locate under one roof and often share seating — are no different. For restaurant owners, food halls offer a place to locate their business where they can exist synergistically, and where overheard costs are lower than a traditional brick-and-mortar site.

“It’s great to have a standalone restaurant somewhere, but it’s even more fun when you bring really talented people together, put them in one location, and let them play on each other’s energy and creativity. It’s the same reason you see coworking spaces work well,” said Drew Parker, principal at Parker Group Services, which opened The Commons, Greenville’s first food hall, in 2019.

The Commons

For customers, food halls offer a variety of drinking and dining choices to make sure everyone in the party goes home full.

When Mack Cross wanted to find a place his young family could snag quality food but that his kids could also run about, he created Gather GVL in Greenville’s West End. He was inspired by SteelCraft, a Long Beach, California open-air shipping container food hall he visited in 2017. Cross signed a lease for Gather GVL by year’s end and carefully selected vendors who complemented, rather than competed with, each other. When Gather’s doors opened in February 2020, the community swarmed in and stuck around. It was a hit. Until the music stopped.

“We were left thinking ‘does our business survive this?’ It was all we could do to finish it, but then we got kicked in the gut like everyone else. We quickly realized we got time to collect ourselves and say ‘how do we fine tune [this business]?’ It was a productive seven weeks of shutdown. We also realized how adaptable what we created was to this new environment,” Cross said, who owns and operates Four Oaks Property Group with his father Doug.

Cartwright Food Hall rendering

Northeast of Greenville, two couples — pals from church — are opening a food hall in downtown Greer. The developers of Cartwright Food Hall wanted to pay homage to the building’s history as a carriage repair shop, hence the name and the artwork (including Greer’s first largescale mural) that peppers the place. Val Kang, his wife, and friends tapped Flying Fox Coffee, Empanada Shack, Jamaican Mi Irie, Momo’s Sushi, and White Wine & Butter to come on as vendors; and Kang and company created Trade Street Taproom to give diners the chance to sip wine or beer. The food hall is set to open this summer.

Niche foodie magazines have been covering growth in the food hall sector nationally for the past decade. In 2017, Eater declared that food halls “officially transcended trendiness.” In other words, they’re not going anywhere. And don’t mistake them for a food court, either.

The Pickle Yard

“The food court at the mall was never the prime attraction, that was the shopping. It was just an amenity. Might as well give the [shoppers] food to keep them spending money longer. And it was always corporate chains. The gathering of it is similar, but this being more experiential and craft in nature and local makes the modern day food hall more popular and more appealing,” Cross said.

Parker is now developing his second food hall, this one in Mauldin. Plans for The Pickle Yard include a biergarten and several food trucks, and the additional draw is five full-size indoor pickleball courts, the first facility of its kind in the area to serve fans of the growing sport. Parker said the eater-tainment venue is the next step in the evolution of food halls. Construction begins later this year, and the Pickle Yard should be open by fall 2023.