Chefs expand their brand through food halls, shops & unique to-go offerings
From San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence, Italy, all the way to Mario Batali’s & Lidia Bastianich’s Eataly in New York City, restaurant customers are taking home more than just their leftovers, bringing back signature jams, breads and even cuts of meat. In the past few years, chefs around the world have been expanding their restaurant brand to create a hybrid restaurant-retail space, taking major advantage of to-go options. This includes food halls, bakeries, butcher shops and retail spaces that are either attached to a restaurant or part of a shared culinary complex. In these multifunctional spaces, the variety of food and drink is only limited by the chef’s imagination. Although popular nationally, the West Coast is officially experiencing the takeover of take-out.
The birth and girth of food halls
Food halls are found all around the world and have been for centuries. Certainly, the glorious gourmet food courts of European department stores are worth noting; such as London’s Harrods (created in the 1800’s) and Paris’s La Grande Epicerie (established 1852), which were both developed within the complex of larger, luxury department stores.
In Tel Aviv, Israel, the Shuk HaNamal (The Port Market) was created by Michal Ansky, a SLOW food member and emerging culinary television personality. Close to the Mediterranean, it features organic produce, cheeses, olives, homemade pastas, gelato and kosher charcuterie.
Japanese food halls go by the name depachika, a combination of the words “department store” and “underground mall.” Takashimaya in Tokyo is a popular
depachika in the basement of a department store where patrons can buy anything from a fancy fruit and whipped cream sandwich to a $175 pair of muskmelons.
Although the American dining scene is clearly
lagging behind the deep history of our international counterparts, the U.S. is starting to see its fair share of food halls pop up, particularly in New York City. Diners can try out the European side of Todd English’s Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel, or opt for more quick eats at Jeffrey Chodorow’s high tech Food Parc, where a text message tells you when your food is ready. Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich opened Eataly, their Italian-inspired food hall, which features a grocery store with separate pastry/ butcher/pasta/bread/cured meat stations, some of which are attached to their own restaurant with waiter service. If that’s not enough, perhaps the gelato/pizza/wine or bookstore will interest you? Or maybe a class at Lidia’s cooking school is more your cup of tea. Well, luckily for you, this can all be found under one roof.
Food hall variety is key
From butcher to retail shops, cafes to bakeries, the trend of food halls and innovative take-out options has been making its way across the country to the West Coast. For some establishments, variety is key. Branches Wood Fire Chop House in Ukiah, California, is a great example of a restaurant with many post- or pre-meal options. Not only does the property host a restaurant and an Irish pub/sports bar, but it also has a butcher shop, a bakery, and a retail area. Owner/Executive Chef Munther Massarweh and business partner/Pastry Chef Debbie Coenen knew that having a restaurant attached to so many carry-out options would be popular with customers. Not only are guests happy, but as Massarweh put it, it allows his culinary team to focus on “working directly with the local farmers and regional producers of Mendocino County.”
A win-win situation
Branches’ resident butcher, Abe, offers a savory side of take-out with his homemade sausages, ranging in flavor from habanero to southwestern chicken to mild Italian sausage. The bakery allows Coenen to showcase the skills of Branches’ chefs in the pastry cases, with customer favorites like peanut butter and jelly bars, apricot coconut macaroons and chocolate sea salt shortbread.
Another restaurant that concentrates on variety is Ubuntu restaurant, annex and yoga studio in Napa, California. “The greatest inspiration is our garden,”
explained executive chef Aaron London. “80 percent of what goes on each plate at the restaurant is from our three acres of gardens.” The rest of the vegetarian menu is sourced locally, and some of the products you can find in their annex, which focuses on local wine and food producers. In the restaurant, diners enjoy creative vegetarian cuisine like the Ubuntu steamed bun stuffed with burrata and sunchoke “dirt,” or Arbuckle grits cooked with goat’s milk whey and sharp cheddar.
Ubuntu enjoys promoting community, which is why their annex sells local food producers such as Rancho Gordo beans. The annex also runs tastings of local wineries featuring producers like Lion’s Run Wine & Whetstone Wine. They have even expanded this community feeling to their yoga studio, allowing customers to extend the Ubuntu experience well beyond the restaurant dining room.
The unlikely teacher: the butcher shop
“When it comes to educating staff, having a butcher shop in the same building as your restaurant is a great tool,” says Chef Victor Jimenez of San Diego’s The Cowboy Star, a restaurant-butcher shop hybrid featuring contemporary American cuisine with a western flair. The butcher shop teaches the staff how to properly butcher, while the restaurant learns how to utilize whole animals, which in turn saves money.
Jimenez was inspired to include a butcher shop with the restaurant after visiting the old school butcher shops of New York City. While the restaurant’s focus is upscale western food, the butcher shop’s concentration is being one of only two certified humane butcher shops in the area. The Certified Humane Raised and Handled program is a certification and labeling program that is the only animal welfare label requiring the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter.
Chef Jimenez tries his hardest to support as many humane meat producers as possible, and a few of his favorites include Meyer Beef in Nebraska, Marin Sun for grass-fed beef, Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas for wild game and Shelton’s Poultry Farm in Pomona, California. Many of the meat and poultry choices on the menu are available in the butcher shop for purchase, like the 22-ounce Cattleman’s Cut Rib Chop, prime beef from Meyer in Nebraska served on the bone, or the Hudson Valley cage-free duck breast, served with French beans, pommes Anna, braised turnips and an aromatic lavender-honey glaze.
Tasty options for home are a Bay Area hit
Some restaurant owners choose to include take-out options because they can accommodate a wider range of price points among customers. This is especially helpful when the restaurant is situated in a diverse city neighborhood, like the folks at Radius in San Francisco. Radius likes to focus on local ingredients and artisans, offering diners three choices a restaurant that serves dinner, a café that serves lunch and a variety of grocery/retail items to take home.
The space was originally intended to have just the restaurant with a take-out window, but during construction, the crew found beautiful wood work that reminded them of a café, and the hybrid restaurant-café of Radius was born.
When it comes to deciding what food and products to carry, Jon Whitehead, Managing Partner of Radius explains, “We let the neighborhood dictate what the café and retail space offers. For example, there is no grocery store nearby, so we try to offer a few grocery options that are made by local artisans,” like breads from Acme Bread Co. and jams from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., both located in Berkeley. They also sell house-made do-it-yourself projects like their fried chicken seasoning (also a popular dish and sandwich in the café) and make your own pickle kits, encouraging customers to practice their “eat local” ethic at home.
Although Radius’s café/restaurant/pantry evolved unexpectedly, for Chef Lori Baker, owning a bakery had always been a lifelong goal. Once she met and fell in love with Chef Jeff Banker, who had dreams of running his own restaurant, it only made sense to bring both of their aspirations to life with Baker & Banker. Today, Lori and Jeff run the restaurant, in addition to the bakery attached next door.
Thanks to Baker’s extensive background (she is a graduate of Johnson and Wales and was a pastry chef at EOS, Home, Slow Club, Gordon’s House of Fine Eats, Bizou and pastry assistant at Postrio, Bix and Fifth Floor under Laurent Gras), the bakery is able to take care of the restaurant’s bread and pastry needs, while also serving up a few of Baker’s favorite sweet treats to customers in the bakery. Crowd favorites include her giant sticky buns, brown butter chocolate chip cookies and blueberry cream cheese muffins, to name a few.
“One bonus,” noted Baker, “is that traditionally, leftovers would be tossed at the end of the day in a bakery. But here, we just send them over as a morning-after treat for restaurant customers, which they really enjoy. That way, we don’t waste product, and we further promote the bakery.”
How to get involved in the take-out takeover
Saving waste, promoting your establishment and making customers happy, not a bad combination! If you are interested in incorporating a take-out or food hall section in your restaurant, whether it is a café, retail shop, butcher shop or bakery, take the advice of these experienced chefs. Whitehead of Radius insists that having the right staff and the extra space are what made his restaurant/café a winning venture. He does warn that “sometimes having two separate businesses with the same name can be confusing to customers,” especially if you open one space before the other, but be consistent with messaging and eventually diners will catch on.
Chef Aaron London of Ubuntu recommends “having a strong online inventory.” In his experience, customers of the restaurant tend to make purchases after they have left, and having internet access to Ubuntu’s annex makes it a lot easier.
From Eataly to Ubuntu, the Shuk HaNamal in Tel Aviv to Branches Wood Fire Chop House in Ukiah, food halls are here to stay. Whether your goal is to serve a wider range of price points, educate your staff or support for your existing restaurant, adding a take out or food hall option to your restaurant can be a beneficial and worthwhile option.
As Baker points out, “It’s a very economical option, especially if you have the extra space. You’re getting two places for the rent of one!” She is not the only restaurateur to recognize that by rethinking take-out, chefs are able to expand their brand beyond the dishes they put out during service. The rise of this new breed of hybrid restaurants not only gives guests the opportunity to bring more home than their meal leftovers, but it also reminds diners that there is more to purchase than just your ordered dish. Whether it be the kitchen’s house-made jam, unique wine offerings or outstanding quality meat, an adjoining boutique grocery, butcher shop or food hall might be just the culinary takeover your restaurant is ready for.