[caption id="attachment_220593" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Hospitality HQ envisions turning the Chancery Market Food Hall & Bar as a place for tastemakers that redefines fast food. DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
WILMINGTON – Netflix's “Stranger Things” made many viewers nostalgic for 1980s-era malls and their food courts. Filled with fast-food options, the once bustling areas were the retail version of a town square for teens and families. Don't expect downtown Wilmington's The Chancery Market Food Hall & Bar to recreate the past. Instead, the new meeting place for tastemakers has a fresh focus that redefines fast food.“It would be really easy for us to recruit a McDonald's or a Burger King,” said Akhtar Nawab, a founding partner of Brooklyn-based Hospitality HQ, which is overseeing the market and food hall's management. “But it doesn't represent the folks we want to work with.”When done well, a food hall showcases artisan eateries, chef-driven brands, and a mix of local and national owners. And Nawab is determined to bring that recipe to success to Wilmington.A new approachThe Chancery Market conjures images of judges in black robes. That's because the name was inspired by the Delaware Court of Chancery, which is praised in international business circles. It's a clever title given the old Hercules Plaza at 1313 N. Market St. in Wilmington has become home to a number of law firms. Tenants include major names like Potter Anderson & Corroon, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr and Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell. Currently, the 23-story building has more than 2,000 tenant employees, according to Scott Johnson, who represents the ownership of the building and TSG Hospitality LLC. The office is also near hotels.In theory, the occupants need places for lunch, an after-work drink and dinner, and they'd like it all in one place. Enter the 12,000-square-foot, ground-floor Chancery Market Food Hall.However, the $5 million project is not Wilmington's first food hall. That honor goes to DE.CO Wilmington, which Buccini/Pollin Group opened in 2019 in the DuPont Building at 111 W. 10th St. Expert adviceHow will the Chancery Market differ from DE.CO? Hospitality HQ, for one. The company has 15 food halls under its belt, and more are on the way. In addition to Wilmington, the company manages a food hall in Salt Lake City, which is heavy with new residents, and Houston, where the hall is in the theater district, Nawab said. He is not just a consultant. The chef owns Alta Calidad and Alta Calidad Taqueria in New York and Otra Vez in New Orleans.Focusing on the food hall sector is a smart move. According to QSR magazine, the category is expected to grow to $71.69 billion by 2026. Indeed, this winter, ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas will debut Proper Eats, a 24,000-square-foot elevated food hall with cocktails and global cuisine.The public's obsession with street food — not typical fast food — is driving the trend. For instance, Chancery Market has signed Fuku, a concept created by celebrity chef David Chang.Fuku's star attraction is a spicy fried chicken sandwich — a habanero-brined chicken breast with a specialty mayonnaise, topped with crisp pickles and served on a Martin's potato roll. Sides include sweet jalapeno-seasoned waffle fries. Diversity in diningRecruiting minority businesses is a mission for Nawab, who is of Indian descent. His partner is Filipino. “It's a crucial element,” Nawab said of celebrating minority- and women-owned businesses. “We would be remiss if we didn't.”Granted, Chang also brings the wow factor. However, Hospitality HQ's target audience also includes small businesses. And some might debate Fuku's size.Kati Roll Wala, however, checks all the boxes. The business began during COVID-19 when Praveena Kumar noticed the lack of quick, protein-rich foods for busy parents with kids at home.Kati rolls are proteins wrapped in Indian flatbread, while wala bowls contain vegetables, protein and basmati rice. “The kids loved it, and we enjoyed it,” said Pankaj Kumar, now director of franchise operations. They opened a cloud kitchen with delivery and pickup. “We were shocked and excited to see positive feedback, and everyone was asking us to open a full-service restaurant.”The first location is in a Knoxville, Tenn., food hall, and Kati Roll Wala is opening in a hall in Houston before coming to Wilmington. A local example of a small, minority-owned business includes the vegan Rooted AF, owned by the women who also have Juice Joint on the Wilmington Riverfront. “They are highly energized about what they're offering,” Nawab said.Reducing riskThe Kumars picked a food hall for their first location because it is “the safest way to reach people, well-designed, clean and an open-kitchen concept,” Pankaj Kumar said.And, ideally, it has foot traffic. “A startup business is best where traffic is guaranteed,” said Nikita Thomas, of Rooted AF. “If you put yourself on a standalone street, you must do your marketing. A food hall is likely to have traffic.”Hospitality HQ has a dedicated human resources manager to help vendors. However, the vendors will manage their own employees. “We manage everything outside the stall,” Nawab said. The management company will handle marketing, promotions and social media for the food hall. It will also provide best practices for social media to the vendors, who do their own posts. Since takeout exploded in 2020 and 2021, Hospitality HQ will facilitate the ordering and pickup, including ordering with a QR code or via the website. Careful consideration has also been given to outdoor dining, another post-COVID trend and one of the Chancery Market's differentiating features. For instance, there will be fireplaces, space for entertainment, games and greenery designed by Delaware Center for Horticulture. The food hall has signed other tenants, but management prefers to release all the remaining names at once. There are a few open spots, and Nawab encourages local businesses from the area to reach out.For a food hall to succeed, it must nourish relationships and satisfy appetites. “It's a community gathering space,” Nawab said. “I think being in this part of Wilmington and with the commitment from Scott and his team, the Chancery Market will be that.”
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