In 2015, an all-star team consisting of award-winning chef Clayton Miller, commercial real estate broker Mary Ashy and hospitality consultant Maria Bonomo came together to form a food hall in Maitland.
The emporium of small restaurants was planned to take shape within a 5,000-square-foot building as part of the mixed-use Maitland City Centre project, but while the luxury apartments and parking garage began taking shape, the food hall concept started to make less sense.
“Food halls are challenging,” Ashy said.
After crunching down the numbers, she said the team decided it was no longer feasible to keep plans for the project going, fearing they may be locked into a long-term lease that required top-dollar rates be paid by tenants that wanted to sub-lease a space at the property.
On top of that, the team kept identifying dead space in the layout, Ashy said.
About two years later, the Spindrift Food Hall team dropped the plans.
She told GrowthSpotter she recalled a good relationship with the developer and team, but the process was elaborate with little flexibility, potentially too expensive for clients and still very new — meaning there was a short supply of successful food hall developments to take note from.
“Four years ago, you didn’t hear of food halls in Florida,” Ashy said. “It was a really innovative idea, and it’s sad it didn’t work out.”
Today, food halls and trendy artisanal markets are becoming more common. In Central Florida, more than a handful of ambitious food halls are being planned in hubs like downtown Orlando and Kissimmee’s W192 tourism corridor, with plenty other smaller artisan markets also in the works in cities like Maitland and Winter Garden.
It may seem like the challenges involved are blowing over, but industry insiders say the process remains complex and expensive.
“If a developer wants to build and manually operate a food hall themselves, I always tell them this: Whatever dollar amount and amount of time you think you’re going to spend and need, double both,” Justin Greider, senior vice president and Florida retail lead at JLL, said. “That will give them a clearer understanding."
JLL is involved in a number of food hall projects in Central Florida, including the Hall on Ivanhoe within the first phase of Real Estate Inverland Development’s Yard at Ivanhoe mixed-use project; the 22,400-square-foot Southern Box Food Hall in the Packing District; and The Food Factory, a 14,500-square-foot food hall within a mixed-use project in Oviedo.
Greider said while developers can choose to lease out and operate a food hall themselves, they’ll typically hire a food hall operator to help curate and run the food hall — though experts in the field agree there isn’t a large supply of talented operators and food hall management groups to choose from.
If the developer is able to find one, a whole list of other questions await like: Will the food hall have a single theme or will it feature multi-cultural cuisines?
Other questions to consider include whether or not a developer is prepared to provide expensive equipment and infrastructure like ventilation systems, or will the operators be the ones to provide the equipment and marketing strategies?
“What is the right magic formula?" Greider said. “Will there be an outdoor component? How will the stalls be designed? Will rents be based on sales or on a per square foot basis?”
It’s his job to help figure that out.
Only a couple of small food hall markets currently operate in Central Florida. Among them include John Rife’s East End Market in Orlando’s Audubon Park neighborhood, which opened in 2013, and Plant Street Market, which opened in downtown Winter Garden in 2015.
He’s also handling leases at a number of adaptive reuse projects by Garber Communities.
“It’s not a first come or first serve basis,” Weinberger said, about filling up space. “It’s what synergy you are shooting for.”
When it comes to developing food halls and markets, he said “you’re dealing with something much more fresh. Not all are operated the same. If you haven’t operated in a food hall before, there’s a learning curve that has to be established.”
More recently, hotelier Micah Bass submitted development plans for a retail hub that can accommodate more than 25 small vendors. The project is part of an expansion effort of his Heart of I-Drive boutique hotel on International Drive. The design is similar to Boxi Park in Lake Nona, where two-story stacked shipping containers host an array of restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile in Horizon West, a 22,000-square-foot food hall is closer to breaking ground. Boyd Development Corp. recently announced they intend to start construction of its planned food hall in Hamlin Town Center by early next year.
“Food halls are like the wild west,” John Crossman, president of the real estate firm Crossman & Company, said. “It’s the new retail frontier. No one knows much about the process.... One thing I always like to say is: They’re not for the faint of wallet.”
Crossman often speaks at real estate events regarding shifting trends in the retail market. His company oversees more than 29 million square feet of retail space throughout the southeastern United States.
“[Food halls] sell like a great idea, but they’re extremely expensive to build and they’re only successful in very high density areas,” Crossman said. "I think some will do crazy well and others will be crazy disasters.”
On a national scale, the number of operating food halls is expected to increase.
According to recently released Cushman & Wakefield report on food halls, 450 food hall developments are expected to be operating throughout the United States by the end of 2020. That’s nearly quadruple the amount recorded by the brokerage in 2016.
This could be a good sign for the foodie scene in Orlando, Bento Group’s Johnny Tung said.
He and his brother Jimmy Tung helped open chef Sonny Nguyen’s Domu Ramen Bar at the East End Market in 2016. The restaurant group also opened Chela Tequila and Tacos, Avenue Gastrobar and Sticky Rice Lao Street Food.
“I don’t think a place like Sticky Rice would have done well ten years ago,” Johnny Tung said. “But the food scene is changing because of the internet."
“Social media is quick to pick up on national food trends. New York isn’t five years ahead of the food scene anymore. When something new is out, people want to participate. Tourist who come to Orlando are looking for those kind of experiences. It’s not just Disney anymore.”
Johnny Tung said he’s talked to several developers trying to establish food halls in Orlando.
“It feels like they’re really trying to get more local food vendors," he said. He adds the cost factors are significantly less expensive than starting a brick-and-mortar business.
“If you’re working with 200 square feet to 500 square feet, it means you need less employees to staff,” Johnny Tung said. "Often times the developer or landlord will cover the costs of things like cleaning up the bathrooms. They understand a restaurant might only be there temporarily, so there’s no long-term lease obligations to fulfill.”
In a highly competitive market, food halls also help give developments edge.
Hector Lizasuain, a director at Magic Development, said the food hall will consists of 18 stalls spanning 375 square feet and four corner stalls ranging from 1,100 square feet to 1,800 square feet.
“The finished product had probably gone through 18 different revisions,” Lizasuain said. “Once more people began liking the concept, I said the time to do this is now. If not, we’d probably be on revision 38.”
A Site Development Plan for the food hall was submitted in Osceola County earlier this month — about a year later after the company’s initial announcement of the food hall.
The development team is currently scouting vendors to fill up the project. Lizasuain said they’re reaching out to food truck operators. At least seven letters of intent have been signed, he adds.
“This is really a grassroots movement for finding those niche, smaller artisinal retailers,” Lizasuain said.
Phil Colicchio, executive managing director of specialty food and beverage at Cushman and Wakefield, said Central Florida has the talent and demand to bring about more food halls.
“Principally because there are so many different cuisines available,” Colicchio said. “Disney has gone out of its way to provide amazing dining experiences. You can’t do that without talent flowing down there.”
Still, he warns that not all projects can successfully pull off a food hall.
Taking into account all of his consultations, he said about 40 percent are advised not to build a food hall.
“There are lot of folks out there that think food halls are the answer to everything," Colicchio said. “Sometimes we find that what’s best for a project is a craft coffee roastery or craft brewery.”