When the economy slumped, L.A.’s Grand Central Market was suddenly full of empty spaces—and owner Adele Yellin saw an opportunity. “I wanted to focus on young entrepreneurial chefs, and I wanted dynamic food that you don’t find everywhere else,” she recalls.
Yellin began approaching up-and-comers like Thai food stand Sticky Rice, and the rest, she says, is history. Since 2012, 17 new vendors selling everything from decadent egg sandwiches on brioche buns to oysters paired with French wine have transformed this long-standing market into one of the buzziest food destinations in L.A.
Food halls—which we’re defining primarily as indoor markets with vendors selling prepared items and groceries—are popping up across America, from Atlanta to Seattle. They serve as incubators for small independent businesses and as gathering spaces where you grab a bite and pick up products of the local, fresh, and artisanal varieties.
“Food halls are prevalent all over the world,” says Steve Carlin, who was responsible for planning and leasing the Ferry Building in San Francisco and the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, CA. “It was only a matter of time before Americans would once again value food sources and local purveyors.”
That historic precedent dates back more than a century, counting venues like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, which opened in 1892. And the trend is gaining steam. San Diego’s Liberty Public Market will open in summer 2015; the James Beard Public Market in Portland, OR, forecasts a 2016 opening; and Anthony Bourdain has a food hall project rumored to be in the works for New York’s 3 World Trade Center.
After all, the appeal goes beyond the food. “We are a critical social connection between people, food, and local purveyors. When these markets work, they’re magic,” says Carlin.