Food halls and multivendor food markets are a hot trend, with new ones taking shape across the country and luring food lovers with a mix of artisan products, fresh groceries and quick meals under the same roof.
The St. Roch Market, slated to open Friday, is banking on that appeal, too. But this local example is also rooted squarely in New Orleans history.
“We’re not coming up with the concept,” said Barre Tanguis, who established the new St. Roch Market with his business partner, Will Donaldson. “We’re actually bringing back something that New Orleans had 150 years ago.”
Originally part of the city’s once-extensive network of public food marts, St. Roch Market is returning from a long hiatus with 13 vendors, including a charcuterie stand, full-service oyster bar, bakery, retail coffee shop, delicatessen, fishmonger and cocktail bar, among others. The roster of prepared foods is robust, with fusions of Creole and Korean fare, West African cuisine, sweet and savory crêpes and fresh salads alongside cold-pressed juices.
“The most important centerpiece, right at the front of the market, is the produce program,” Donaldson said.
This section is run by Keenan McDonald. Once a farmer, she now sources fresh produce from within a 200-mile radius.
“We’re able to cut the distributor’s markup on it,” Donaldson said. “We can sell a high-quality, affordable product.”
The locale includes indoor and outdoor seating so that guests can enjoy a meal immediately after shopping.
“This will be a community space, not just a store you shuffle through,” Tanguis said. “We hope it will be the heart of the St. Roch community.”
A modern revival
Still commonplace in Europe, there are longstanding templates for the multivendor market in the United States, too, including the city’s own historic French Market, the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles and Pike Place Market in Seattle. Newer examples, such as San Francisco’s Ferry Building, have quickly become major attractions.
The St. Roch Market has a history reaching back to 1875, when it was first established as an open-air market known as the Washington Market. After successive renovations over the generations, it’s now a bright and spacious building with 20-foot ceilings, window-lined walls and soaring iron columns.
Donaldson and Tanguis believe locals will be receptive to the food hall concept as a place offering a casual dining experience, high-quality produce and prepared foods to bring home. For the vendors themselves, the market represents a new venue for entrepreneurial expansion or to get a new business off the ground.
“You have all of these people in here who are successful in their own right,” Donaldson said of the vendors. “They’re talented people needing an opportunity to get into the business.”
Some modern-day business startup savvy is also in play here. Tanguis and Donaldson are founders of Launch Pad, a communal workspace for budding businesses, located in the Central Business District.
“We joke that this is Launch Pad with napkins because, in many ways, it’s the same concept,” Donaldson said.
Like Launch Pad, St. Roch Market unites entrepreneurs, in this case those eager to make a splash in the city’s culinary scene.
Cooking up collaborations
The collaboration enables them to cut the costs and risks associated with opening a business, the market managers say. And the constant interchange amongst the vendors could lead to an exchange of ideas and exposure to new opportunities. The food mart includes a communal prep kitchen for the chefs, a shared office and a storage facility for dry goods.
Because St. Roch is meant to be more than a place for grocery shopping, the owners are working with nearby neighborhood associations to create community outreach programs, such as apprenticeships for aspiring chefs.
Future market events also are in the works. Tanguis and Donaldson plan to host chef demonstrations, Sunday brunches that include a food component from each vendor and daily specials.
And at some point, the owners will open a private restaurant for members, next door.
But for now, they are focused on establishing their business and attracting a diverse clientele. Friday’s grand opening will feature live music and food samples — a taste of what the market will offer.
“The entire project is based around the local demographic,” Donaldson said. “We want the people in the neighborhood to be our primary customers. But this is unique to the city, so we hope that people from all over the city will come visit.”