“So, what’s up with all these food halls, Scott, aren’t they just like food courts without the mall attached?”
I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately since food halls and markets have been trending. At first glance, some of them do resemble a mall food court, with various stalls of food vendors with walkup counters where you place your order, pay for it, then carry it on a tray to a table, if you can find one.
The biggest difference with food halls and markets is that the food stalls are more likely to be operated by independent chefs and restaurateurs – you’re not likely to find an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel or Orange Julius – and offer a more complete dining experience of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Now, the recently-opened Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Village takes the food hall concept to a different level. Like other food halls, HOTY features a variety of restaurant concepts and cuisines and also has two large bars, one inside and one outside. But it operates more like a conventional restaurant, including host seating, with waiter service and customers ordering from as many of the vendors as they wish from one spot. You can even make a reservation.
There were a couple of things I found surprising on my three visits. First, the place is huge. The food stalls – nine of them – are strewn throughout the first level; there is ample private function space upstairs. You may be seated at a freestanding table, one of the bars or at the food counter of one of two open kitchens – Humbl, the plant-based concept, or the Chef & I (I’ll have a focus on Chef & I Tuesday). Wherever you sit, a server will greet you to explain things and to take your orders, even if you select items that are from two or more far-flung vendors. This operation model allows the chefs to cook without having to worry about the “front of the house,” even when the front of the house is surrounding them.
But the most surprising thing of all was that it seemed to work.