Developer du jour: Food halls popping up across metro Atlanta

Boosted by the success of Krog Street and Ponce City markets, new food halls are popping up across metro Atlanta.

At least five projects are planned, stretching from Midtown Atlanta to Forsyth County, as developers seek to bring energy to their projects through these new food concepts that feature several restaurants and vendors around a central gathering space.

“On every developer’s site plan where it used to show a grocery store, it now shows a food hall,” said George Banks, who runs retail consulting and development firm Revel with partner Kristi Rooks.

Revel is about to break ground on “The Daily” in Alpharetta that will bundle six restaurants around a central courtyard at the former site of The Varsity.

“It’s a high-energy, all-day, elevated dining restaurant cluster,” Banks said. “We are trying to provide a little bit of what we think Alpharetta as a city is missing.”

Food courts, of course, have been mainstays in American malls for decades. But the food hall generally excludes fast-food chains and focuses on more elevated eats, mostly from local operators.

“A curated food hall requires a lot of care and thought,” said Banks, who previously worked for Atlanta developer Paces Properties when it developed Krog Street Market. “Sometimes you have to say no to perfectly capable tenants who have money just because they don’t meet the vibe. It’s contradictory … But you can’t just cram a bunch of food and beverage operators in a box. That’s a food court.”

Food halls have been around Europe for years, but are just gaining popularity in America.

In fact, the number of food halls is growing rapidly across the country. In 2010, there were 28 food halls in U.S., according to new data from Cushman & Wakefield. That number grew to 140 in 2017. Now, it’s projected to reach 300 food halls by 2020.

“People like to gather in common spaces that are fun and unique,” said Ed Lee, principal of Capital Properties Group. “They like going to one spot and having multiple places to dine.”

Capital Properties Group and Concordia Properties are developing a food hall near the Marietta Square called the Marietta Square Market. The team is rehabbing an 18,500-square-foot warehouse to house 19 restaurant and retail concepts. It’s already landed tenants including Grand Champion BBQ and a new concept from the team behind Tin Lizzy’s Cantina called Street Taco.

Lee is also part of the leasing team for another food hall in Alpharetta that will be part of the massive 360 Tech Village project from Fuqua Development LLC and TPA Group.

That seems to be the latest theme: food halls are moving into the suburbs of Atlanta.

“Everybody OTP wants to have something like in the city,” Lee said. “Traffic is too bad. Bringing these suburban-versions of Krog Street Market is a good idea.”

Food halls have become a hit for several reasons.

Due to the rise of e-commerce sales, and with people now spending more money dining out than on groceries, food-related retail has seen the most aggressive growth of all retail categories.

“Where retail is today, it’s very food-centric,” said Patrick Leonard, principal of RocaPoint Partners, part of the development team for Halcyon, a 135-acre mixed-use project rising in Forsyth County. Halcyon will include a 13,000-square-foot “market hall” with eight food tenants including Gu’s Dumplings, Sweet Tuna and Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee.

Plus, food halls offer consumers many choices with lots of convenience.

“It solves a lot of family fights,” said Laura King, a broker with Vantage Realty Partners, who previously worked on leases at Krog Street Market.

Plus, King said, food halls offer emerging chefs a lower-cost way to open their own restaurants.

“It’s more of a stepping stone for those looking to enter the restaurant market,” she said. “The build-out is a fraction of the cost.”

And, many developers see food halls as an amenity for larger projects to help boost residential and office occupancy.

“We think it’s a good complement to the rest of the project,” Leonard said. Halcyon will also include 690 residential units and two hotels. A food hall brings energy to the development and attracts more people, he said.

Atlanta’s first notion of a food hall came with downtown’s Sweet Auburn Curb Market.

The craze really hit its stride in Atlanta with the opening of Krog Street Market in 2014. The project transformed the former Tyler Perry Studios into a collection of restaurants, food stalls and shops. Its lineup today includes Superica, Hop City and gift shop The Merchant.

Then came Ponce City Market in Old Fourth Ward, which in 2016 was named the No. 5 food hall in the country by Cushman & Wakefield. That was due to its location in a “major ‘Cool Streets’ neighborhood” and lineup of top concepts such as W.H. Stiles Fish Camp from Chef Anne Quatrano.

- Amy Wenk, Atlanta Business Chronicle